food store

Mediterranean Sparklers

 
FUNNILY ENOUGH, IT WAS MY Polish father who introduced me to the Italian sparkling wine Prosecco. His lifelong love of all things Italian began in his 20s when he spent several of his army years in Italy during World War II and then stayed on for a year afterward as well. But I have to credit Commissario Guido Brunetti—the police inspector of Venice in Donna Leon’s novels—with opening my eyes to a more day-to-day appreciation of it: The detective can often be found drinking un ombra with cicchetti (Venetian snacks) at a bar midday, or sipping it as an aperitif or with his professor wife Paola’s fabulous home-cooked meals.
 
Prosecco is just one of the sparkling wines of the Mediterranean that are perfect for toasting the holidays. Ask your local wine seller for their favorite producers and bottles. Here are a few I’ve liked, from Gotham Wines, my neighborhood wine store, and Astor Wines downtown. When the wines are available from the stores’ online sites, I include a link.
 
ITALY/ Prosecco
Mionetto IL Prosecco D.o.c. di Treviso, $10
Prosecco is a dry sparkling wine made from Glera grapes. While Champagne undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, Prosecco is made by the Charmat method, with the second fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks. Mionetto has been making Prosecco since 1887 in Valdobbiadene, just north of Venice, the area where most Prosecco comes from. This bottle often shows up chez nous to celebrate, well, just life. The producer suggests it’s “perfect with brunch, lunch, dinner or potato chips.” You get the idea.
 
Mionetto Valdobbiadene Superiore D.o.c.g., $18
Made from 100% prosecco grapes from a single vineyard, this dry gentle sparkler has a floral bouquet with apple and peach flavors. (At Gotham Wines store.)

FRANCE/ Blanquette de Limoux
From Languedoc Roussillon in southern France. I was interested to learn that Benedictine monks started making sparkling wine here in 1531, a century before the first Champagne was produced. Estate-bottled, this wine today is considered “qualitatively close to a high quality non-vintage Champagne.” Apparently, Thomas Jefferson liked it back in the day, too.
 
SPAIN/ Cava
A vintage estate-bottled cava, served to me just the other night with mezze by my friend, Brenda. That is true friendship.
 
GREECE
Made following the Champenoise method by Tselepos, a small respected family winery in the Peloponesse, from Moschofilero grapes.
 
 
And on my list to try soon, a few staff picks from my friends at Gotham Wines:
 
Penisola Sorrentina “Gragnano,” $16
A dry red frizzante (slightly bubbly) blend of Aglianico, Piedirosso and Sciasinasso grapes, made on the Sorrento peninsula in southern Italy. It’s favored as a good match for pizza, working well with the tomato and the cheese. Or any light meal, for that matter.
 
Rosa Regale, Banfi, $18
A sweet red sparkling wine from Piemonte, with a wonderful burst of raspberry on the palate. Pairs beautifully with chocolate.
 
Castello di Luzzano “Magot,” $22
A white frizzante made from Pinot Nero grapes in Lombardia. Light straw yellow, fragrant on the nose, crisp and well-balanced. “For the sophisticated palate,” according to my Gotham guru.
 
Gotham Wines & Liquors
2517 Broadway (at 94th St)
New York, NY
212-932-0990
info@gothamwines.com
 
Astor Wines & Spirits
399 Lafayette Street (at East 4th St)
New York, NY
212-674-7500
customer-service1@astorwines.com
Twitter: @astorwines

Dolci: A Few Mediterranean Sweets for the Holidays

DON’T YOU LOVE A CUISINE that insists on 13 desserts for a proper celebration? That’s the Provençal tradition for the gros souper on Christmas Eve, which I imagine must leave leftovers for days after that. Here are a few sweets our household is particularly fond of at this time of year.
 
 
This summer I stumbled upon Villabate Alba Pasticceria in Bensonhurst (what planet have I been on that I hadn’t even heard of it?). The cannoli at this Sicilian pastry shop, made with ricotta straight from Palermo and with the lightest, crispiest shells, were heaven—the BEST I’ve ever tasted. (Ask my family; I’m really picky when it comes to this popular dessert.) Even though Sicilians originally ate cannoli only during Carnevale, to heck with tradition; I’m going to make a point of treating my house guests to some this Christmas. Because it’s all about them, of course.
 
Villabate Alba Pasticceria & Bakery 
7001 18th Avenue (and 70th Street)
Brooklyn, NY
718-331-8430
718-232-2122
 
 
Closer to home, I’ll pick up some panettone, the Milanese bread-cake studded with raisins and candied citrus peel that is eaten at Christmastime. There are wonderful (certa apocryphal) stories about its origin.

I usually get the boxed version that’s flown in to New York stores from Italy during this season. But Grandaisy Bakery’s fresh-baked panettone, made “true to tradition with rum soaked raisins, citron and a touch of honey,” is quite a treat, I’ve discovered. It comes in 2lb ($16) and 4lb ($26) sizes and will be sold through Three Kings Day. (You can also order online for $26 and $36, including shipping.)

Grandaisy Bakery (3 locations)
250 West Broadway
73 Sullivan Street
176 West 72 Street (and Amsterdam)
New York, NY
212-334-9435 
 
What’s your go-to source for panettone in NYC? And how do you like to eat it? Toasted for breakfast? As an after-dinner sweet with prosecco? Let me know in the comments box below. 
 
We’re going to start a new tradition in our household today. Thirteen desserts. Merry Christmas to all!

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 5

A LITTLE LUXE FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN PANTRY
 
THE MEDITERRANEAN SHOPS THAT DOT NEW YORK are a great source of treats and gifts for you and your foodie friends. Shopping in them is part of the pleasure—a step into another world for a time. I like to take a minute to pause, if I can, ordering a coffee and a snack at an Eataly counter or a few tapas—and more coffee—in the back café at Despaña. There are always the samples and tastings, too. Yum.
 
 
Villa Manadori Artisanal Aceto Balsamico di Modena
This dark, rich balsamic vinegar is far removed from the everyday balsamic you’ll find in most supermarkets. (I first tasted it drizzled on a roasted vegetable dish at Le Verdure in Eataly; later I learned it’s the balsamic of choice at Babbo as well.) I’d heard that Di Palo Fine Foods, a 4th-generation store in Little Italy, was a good source for high-quality balsamic vinegars at very reasonable prices, and, sure enough, I found this one in the store on Grand Street, an excellent buy at $32.99. (It usually runs about $45.) In a tall elegant bottle, packed in a white box, it makes a lovely gift.
 
Of course, for $200, you could go for the real nectar of the gods, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, which has D.O.P. status and must be aged for at least 15 years. In the case of this particular bottle of balsamico tradizionale, the cooked grape must is aged for 30 to 40 years in successively smaller fruitwood barrels. (Standards are strict; even the bottle has to be a particular shape.)
 
Di Palo Fine Foods
200 Grand Street
New York, NY
212-226-1033
 

 
Sour Cherry Compote with Balsamic Vinegar, from Le Tamerici 
I met Paola Calciolari, the founder of this small artisanal producer, at Eataly last month when she was doing a tasting of her compotes, wine jellies and mostardas. Each one was so tasty, it was hard to choose among them. I love sour cherries, though, so I went with this one ($13; selections from the product line available at Eataly, above). It’s delicious with soft cheeses like Taleggio and Brie, or on your yogurt in the morning. Learn more about Paola’s company here.

Eataly NYC
200 Fifth Avenue (enter on Fifth or 23rd)
New York, NY
212-229-2560
 
 
Lunardo Black Truffle Honey
Truffles, without the truffle budget: For $19.50, experience how the “sweetness melts into a gorgeous, deep, earthy truffle flavor.” (Many truffled products have little more than truffle aroma; Market Hall Foods is careful that actual truffle appears in this honey.) Delicious served with chunks of parmigiano reggiano. 
 
Online: MarketHallFoods.com
 

 
 
Jamón Ibérico Bellota
This is truly the king of Spanish dry cured hams, the most prized pata negra, and it has only been available in the United States for the last couple of years. It’s handcrafted according to the exacting standards of a Denomination of Origin label from indigenous black Iberian pigs that roam freely in oak groves and meadows. In the last few months before slaughter, the pigs eat only acorns (hence, bellota) which, we’re told, accounts for the particular rich complex taste of this ham. It’s then dry cured for up to 36 months. Need further persuasion? Much of the ham’s beautiful marbled fat is oleic acid, a healthier monounsaturated type of fat.
 
You’ll find Jamón Ibérico Bellota at Despaña, a shop in SoHo that transports you to Spain the moment you step inside. It sells for $159/lb machine-cut, $169/lb hand-sliced. Nope, that’s no typo. But the folks at the store will happily sell you a few paper-thin slices of this delicacy, so no one need miss out on the flavor sensation. Hostess gift? Foodie potluck? We spent $10 for our slices one day this fall and ate them as soon as we hit the sidewalk, the best bicycling refueling snack I’ve ever had. (Despaña also stocks a full range of Spanish charcuterie at more everyday prices.)
 
Despaña
408 Broome Street
New York, NY
212-219-5050
 
 
Previous Holiday Gift Guides:

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 2

 
Gifts and Treats for You and Yours
 
CITRUS FRUITS AND FRESH HERBS ARE BELOVED big-flavor ingredients in Mediterranean cooking. When I began making more Med dishes, I was struck by how many lemons I was buying—and zesting and squeezing and slicing. And I loved the new taste adventures with oranges—not eaten just as a fruit in hand, but sliced with tapenade, or zested and juiced for a citronette over grilled asparagus. Almost every Med recipe calls for one fresh herb or another—parsley by the fistful, or rosemary, thyme, mint, oregano in soups, salads, you name it. So here are a few gift ideas for making herb and citrus wrangling a snap for the Mediterranean cook in your life. 
 
COOL KITCHEN TOOLS
 
 
Citrus squeezer ($12). Comes in different sizes for limes, lemons and oranges, but all three might crowd a New York apartment drawer. You choose. 
 
 
 

Microplane Zester/grater 
($15). After years of struggling with multipurpose gadgets for zesting citrus fruits, using this is heaven. It takes just the zest and leaves behind the bitter white pith with hardly any effort on my part. (Can be used to grate cheese, too.)
 
 

 

Cuisipro Fresh Herb Keeper ($20). How many times have you bought a bunch of thyme or mint, used a bit, then had the rest end up lifeless by the time you need it again? Slots in the removable tray hold and hydrate stems while keeping the leaves dry; it can also be used to store asparagus.
 
 

MEDITERRANEAN HERB GARDEN
Herbs stay freshest, of course, when they’re actually living plants in the ground. I grow indoor pots of basil, thyme, rosemary and oregano in fits and starts. (They do require watering!) These are particularly pretty. Plus: a couple of gift ideas for New York City gardeners who actually have a patch of ground or outdoor terrace.
 
French Country Kitchen Garden ($22). Three pots, with organic soil, drip tray and seeds for parsley, marjoram and lemon basil.
 
 
 
 
 
 

($25). Three pots, with peat pellets, drip tray and seeds for basil, oregano and chives.
 
 
 
 
 
 
When I had a country garden, I loved Shepherd’s Garden Seeds because they sold such exotica (at the time) as Lolla Rossa lettuce and arugula. Renee Shepherd, its founder, now runs Renee’s Garden, where you can find a Container Herb Collectionseeds for Cameo basil, fine leaf chives, Slow Bolt cilantro, true Greek oregano and Gigante parsley, and Container Vegetable Collection—Super Bush tomato, Garden Babies lettuce, Gold Chard, Bush Slicer cucumber and  Pizza My Heart pepper. ($14 each)
 
 
For the outdoor gardener, go local with a Hudson Valley Seed Library gift membership ($20). Members grow seeds in their home gardens, enjoy their flowers and fruits, and then save seed at the end of the season to return to the library for credit toward their next year’s membership. I came across the beautiful Art Packs (not included in the $20 membership) at New Amsterdam Market, each seed pack beautifully illustrated by a different New York artist. You can still catch Hudson Valley Seed at the market Dec 19th. 
 
 
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday Gift Guide:
 
 

 

Mediterraneanista's Holiday List, Part 1

 
Gifts and Treats for You and Yours
 
We’ve made some wonderful discoveries this year during our travels around New York City’s five boroughs and beyond, on the trail of one Mediterranean essential or another. So if you want to add a little Mediterranean flavor to your holiday, I have a few suggestions.
 
You can get many of these items online, but for some, alas, you’ll have to jump on the subway (or your bicycle) and head over to one of the amazing Mediterranean shops that dot New York. For me that time will be part of the pleasure: When I stop in at Eataly or Despaña, say, with my Christmas list, I plan to sit down and drink a coffee, order a few pintxos or a pizza or pasta and rest awhile until I’m ready for another whirl of Christmas preparations.
 
OLIVE OIL LOVE
This summer I visited Hester Street Market quite a few times, motivated to take the 7-mile bike ride from home because I knew Guerrilla Ice Cream would be waiting as a reward. One day, Mediterraneanista had an extra treat: I discovered SOM Extra-Virgin Olive OilAsena Basak was at the market giving tastes and selling the cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil her family produces on their farm in Milas, Turkey near the Aegean coast. It’s a delicious estate-bottled extra-virgin oil, made from Memecik olives grown by the family. The 2010 harvest will be available in April or May. (Follow SOM on Facebook.)
~Buy the SOM 2009-10 harvest at Garden of Eden stores or online
 
Back on the Upper West Side, I recently ran into the Franks (Castronovo and Falcinelli) at our local Whole Foods. The chef/owners of the Greenmarket-driven Frankies Spuntino restaurants are very friendly guys; they were there showing off their new cookbook, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual, and giving us tastes of their amazing olive oil cake, pretzels and other goodies. As if cookbook writing and running Frankies 457 in Brooklyn and Frankies 17 on the Lower East Side isn’t enough to keep them busy, the pair go to Sicily every year to oversee the production of Frankies Extra-Virgin Olive Oil— cold-pressed from organically grown Sicilian olives in the Nocellara del Belice DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin). They were expecting a shipment from the new harvest any day.
~Buy Frankies olive oil online or at these stores.
 
 
Mediterraneanista likes her olives any way she can get them. This Jardin de l’Olivier olive oil soap ($8.50) is nourishing for the skin—and what a beautiful objet, with its olive leaf shape, don’t you think? And the “Olive Tree” and “Mediterranean” tea towels ($21), made in France by Tissage Moutet, are almost too pretty to use. They’re woven in cotton by a fourth-generation business located in Orthez, a town in the foothills of the French Pyrénées.
~Buy tea towels and olive oil soap at QuelObjet.com.
 
 
 
 
 
AND SOME LAVENDER, TOO
 
 
Go to Union Square Greenmarket any Monday or Friday this month, and you’ll find sachets and dried bunches of lavender from Lavender by the Bay to make you think of summer and Provence. Or White Flower Farm has a lavender plant in a gray glazed pot ($42) that is hard to resist. 
 
 
GIVE THE COOK A NIGHT OFF
On Christmas Eve, Bistro de la Gare will celebrate with a traditional Italian “Night of the Seven Fishes” dinner as a prix fixe menu for $65 (tax, tip and wine not included). As of 12/10, tables are still open for some times between 5:30 and 10:30 that night.
~Make reservations at 212-242-4420.
I love the seasonal Mediterranean menus at this Greenwich Village restaurant. Here’s what chef/owners Maryann Terillo (formerly of Jarnac) and Elisa Sarno (formerly of Babbo) have in store for Christmas Eve:
La Notte dei Sette Pesci
Amuse: Baked Cherrystone Clams and PEI Mussel “Oreganata”
Antipasto: Baccala Three Ways—Fritelle di Baccala, Insalata di Baccala, Baccala Venizia
Salad: Shaved Fennel and Roasted Peppers with Bagna Cauda 
Pasta: Seppia Ink Fettucine with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat
garnished with Grilled Octopus
Secondi: Fritto Misto—Eel, Fresh Shrimp, Oysters, Calamari and Skate with 3 sauces: salsa verde, salsa rossa, maionese limone
Dessert: Bowls of Fresh Fruit and Nuts, Struffoli
 
Bistro de la Gare
626 Hudson Street (near Jane)
New York, NY
212-242-4420
 
 
Make life with holiday crowds easy: Cobble Hill restaurant Brucie has a lasagna drop-off service, we learn over at Tasting Table. Bring your pan in one day; pick up your meal-for-a-crowd the next evening on your way home. Great combos made with top-quality ingredients: eggplant, tomato and Swiss chard, goat cheese and mushrooms, roast pork and butternut squash.
 
Brucie
234 Court St.
Brooklyn, NY
347-987-4961
 

AN INSIDER LOOK AT EATALY
The giant Italian food hall that opened this summer at 23rd and Fifth offers classes at La Scuola di Eataly, which is headed up by Lidia Bastianich. Eat-Ineraries ($35) are one-hour small-group guided tours led by a senior staff member, with behind-the-scenes peeks at all the departments and tastings along the way. Chef’s Kitchen ($110–275) lets you join chefs like Esca’s Dave Pasternack, Manzo’s Michael Tosano, Del Posto’s Brooks Headley and Dean of La Scuola Lidia Bastianich for a demonstration and tasting (with wine pairings) as they prepare a signature dish. And there are classes with artisanal food purveyors like Pat LaFrieda and Eataly wine director Dan Amatuzzi. (See the Jan–Mar schedule here.)  

To give a particular class as a gift, register the recipient online for that class. Once the registration is complete with credit card approval, that space is reserved. If you like, you can then contact lascuola@eataly.com to obtain a certificate stating the class for which the gift recipient is registered.
 
Or you can buy an Eataly gift certificate, available only in the store, not yet online, but this doesn’t reserve a place in a class, and some sell out quickly (the classroom seats 22 for tastings, 20 for Chef’s Kitchen).
 
Eataly NYC
200 Fifth Avenue (enter on Fifth or 23rd)
New York, NY
212-229-2560
lascuola@eataly.com 
 
Mediterraneanista’s Holiday Gift Guide:
 
 

Celebrating World Pasta Day

 
NOT THAT I NEED AN EXCUSE to enjoy pasta, but next Monday, October 25, is World Pasta Day (did you know?), and I thought I’d get a head start with tonight’s dinner. Which, of course, was an excuse for another visit to Eataly, the Batali/Bastianich Italian food hall that opened this summer at 5th and 23rd. There, I found everything I needed to make a wonderful wild mushroom ragù with bucatini. (More on that in a minute.)
 
Pasta took some knocks when low-carb diets were popular. But eaten in reasonable portions (1 to 1½ cups cooked, say), pasta is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet—and a much beloved food. The complex carbs provide energy, of course, as any cyclist will tell you. Whole-wheat pasta is the most nutrient-rich, with at least three times the fiber of refined pasta. It’s also pretty tasty, which wasn’t always the case. Pasta made from refined durum wheat flour or durum semolina often gets a nutritional boost from being enriched with iron, folic acid and other B-vitamins. We eat some of both in our household.
 
Then there’s the sauce: Pasta is often referred to as an “efficient delivery system” for other healthy foods. I hate to think of any food on my plate being merely a delivery system—sounds so clinical. If you buy high-quality pasta (dried or fresh) it’s delicious in and of itself. But I know what they mean. Sauces full of vegetables and legumes are an easy and delicious way to incorporate those hard-to-get daily recommended servings of vegetables into your meals. But drown your pasta in sauce?! How gauche. Well, here’s cookbook author Mark Bittman’s take on the sauce-to-pasta ratio question. 
 
One of my favorite companions to pasta is fresh tomato sauce with cannellini beans and herbs. But today, I’m going for something different. With mushrooms popping up in the woods and in markets everywhere, it’s the perfect season to make this dish.
 

 

 

 

 

Oh, for Love of Farro

WENT ON A LONG BIKE RIDE last weekend, across the George Washington Bridge and onto River Road in New Jersey. We decided to go south this time and make a lunch stop at Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocery store that’s always fun to visit. (Mediterraneanista likes a change of pace from time to time.) Turns out the annual Hokkaido Food Festival was in full swing, so we lunched on crab, corn and pumpkin croquettes and finished off with a Hokkaido dessert—a fabulous strawberry cream puff from a bakery named Arles. (How did they know?)
 
 
After lunch, I went up and down the aisles and aisles of Japanese specialties—a hundred types of saki, sushi-grade tuna, pristinely fresh whole mackerel and pike, thinly sliced pork belly and beef. Then there were the items I wouldn’t even begin to know how to prepare.
 
 
So I came home from Mitsuwa with—a bag of farro. Yes, the store has an Italian section, with quite a selection of grains and beans and there it was, a bag of Bartolini farro at a price I couldn’t resist and compact and sturdy enough to carry home on a bike. (I suspect that cycling 25 miles for a bag of farro is not going to be an everyday thing, though.)
 
I’ve been on a bit of a farro kick these days; even did a guest blog post on it for Oldways, the nonprofit that convened a lot of the early scientific/culinary conferences on the Mediterranean diet and continues to raise public awareness of its benefits in really smart ways. I’m trying out different farro soups now that fall is here. I’ll keep you posted. 
 
Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Rd
Edgewater, NJ 
201.941.9113
 

Tomato Sauce, Batch 2

LAST WEEK READER JOHN FROM TORONTO passed on his great you-can-do-this method for making tomato sauce, which he learned from a Sicilian friend in London. He made another batch this week and sent some photos. The tomatoes he’s using look so beautiful and not at all like the giant hard waxed Romas you often come across in grocery stores. (I learned this week that Italian families in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, source their Romas in central New Jersey. Need to tap into that pipeline!)
 

Now doesn’t this make you want to stop everything and make tomato sauce? 

Sunday Dinner: Baked Mediterranean Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

 
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but I never get tired of meals that involve cherry tomatoes. And I’m still finding boxes of them at the greenmarket—sweet, irresistible, without the thick skins that so many store-bought ones now seem to have. (On and off, after the local season has finished, I’m able to get really tasty hothouse champagne cherry tomatoes from Canada, sold loose in a box at Fairway. Champagne prices, too—$5/lb—but worth it.)
 
Tonight I’m using cherry tomatoes in a chicken dish that is full of Mediterranean flavors and a cinch to make. That’s another reason it’s a Lazy Mediterraneanista favorite. The key is to have the basic ingredients in your pantry or fridge, ready to go. Extra-virgin olive oil, yes, but lemons, olives and capers, too, are staples of so many Mediterranean dishes. I always keep a supply of pitted (!) Niçoise olives, which I find at Zabar’s, and capers (often from Fairway). That way, I can have this meal ready pretty quickly. I timed myself the last time I made it: 30 minutes flat, from prep start to table.
 
A note about portions: The recipe calls for 2 chicken breasts, which—if you’re taking the Mediterranean approach—will serve 4 to 6 people, depending on the weight of the chicken parts. Do I sense raised eyebrows? Well, I weighed the chicken I’m using today—believe it or not, each piece was anywhere from 8 oz. to 12 oz. (God knows what they’re feeding those chickens.) A half- or three-quarter pound chicken breast is definitely not a single serving of meat—more like 2 or 3 servings each, when you use the 3 oz. food pyramid portion size, or the well-known deck-of-cards measure. But in a Mediterranean meal, you will fill most of your plate with something other than meat. Or have a couple of other non-meat courses as well. So no chance of starving!
 
I often serve this dish with a heap of roasted root vegetables. Tonight we’re having quinoa and sautéed greens. I also like it with small steamed new potatoes and a green salad. I sometimes double the recipe because it’s good reheated, too—for a 10-minute dinner the next day.
 

Eataly Coming to New York: First Look

I WAS WALKING ALONG 24th Street last week and peeked in the window at Eataly, the 50,000-square-foot food hall Mario Batali is opening with partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and others.
 
 
Batali has described it as a “temple” to Italian food. It will have all sorts of food departments—butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer, bakery, cheese, dried goods, salumi—as well as restaurants and snack counters. A sign outside quotes Fellini: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Sounds good to me.
 
 
The original Eataly, a Slow Food heaven in Turin, opened in 2007, followed by branches in other Italian cities and in Japan. We’ll all get to experience New York’s Eataly for ourselves on Tuesday, August 31 at 4 pm. To whet your appetite, here’s a preview from Eater.
 
See you there!
  
Eataly
Fifth Avenue and 24th Street 
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