Sunday, March 29, 2015

Transumanza in the Valle d'Aosta

The lovely Valdostana Pezzata Rosso - the essential component of one of my favourite cheeses, Fontina Valle d'Aosta. 

With the extreme exceptions of only the coldest winters, the sound of running water is almost always a constant sound outside of Zia's house.  And because we typically visit in summer, I've never heard the bells of animals in pasture in the Valle d'Aosta, specifically in the località Valmeanaz, until this past autumn.

In the summer months, the cows are far up the mountains grazing on the fragrant grasses and flowers that make the milk (and consequently, the cheese) so special.  About the end of October, they are brought down from the mountains on the very roadways you will be driving on, so attenzione!  I pulled the Fiat over to let them pass and almost forgot to take a photo!

The bells are music.

Thank you to the mountain cheesemakers and to those who continue to live the pastoral life high in the Italian Alps. Grazie!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The tradition of wine and chestnuts

The sweet smell of roasting castagne. Chestnuts!
Roasting chestnuts is obviously a seasonal thing.  The gentle sweet nuttiness of roasted chestnuts makes me think of barren trees and grey late autumn days that are fading to winter, frost on the Fiat and somewhere warm to stand next to while peeling chestnuts.  Chestnuts also make me think of this cake.  Traditionally, they are a staple over Christmas starting with San Martino (for the new wine) in November and ending about the time of the Epifania (and Christmas visiting) on the 6th of January.   

How to pick and how to prep: assuming you aren't taking them straight from the tree, here is a good intro and primer.

Once we have prime specimens, we do it two ways: after notching the chestnuts with an 'x' or slicing a small corner (as above), they can be roasted direct on the stove top or over an open fire in the perforated pan.  Just remember to keep them moving! 

When they are done, wrap the chestnuts in a teatowel.  This lets them sweat and allows them to cool a little (making them easier to handle and peel).  Either way, one thing is certain, they are never far from a glass of vino.

The chestnuts pictured above were sweet indeed.  You don't get any fresher than these, roasted right on the stovetop and shared with Zia Mela, Maria, Stefano and Salvatore along with Salvatore's vino rosso.  Perfect.

To our dear Zia, thank you for your hospitality and I will see you again soon.  Be well.

Monday, March 23, 2015

No words.

The ethereal cannoli at Terra Madre.  Slightly sweetened ewe's milk ricotta, studded with crushed almonds..

At Terra Madre, a few of us were making our way around the booths early that first morning and having had the foresight (Grazie SlowCheese 2011), I suggested breakfast.

Glances and nodding, knowing smiles.  Nothing else to say.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Arrivederci La Cucina Italiana

I'm sitting here, with a glass of gorgeous Cantine Sardus Pater Arruga Carignano del Sulcis Superiore 2007 aside the laptop.  That's a little naughty because, while I am cooking, it is barely lunchtime.  I've long been trying to think of how to bid farewell to 'a friend' who moved away permanently and didn't bother to tell me they were leaving.

Now you might be asking, "what kind of friend does this?".  I'm wondering too, I mean, were they really a friend after all?

This friend joined me and our family at many a meal and provided frequent inspiration for our dinners and gatherings.  We went shopping, bought clay bean pots, truffle shavers, Alessi cheese graters and sourced organic cecceri together.  They were always a source of great advice that I used on trips to the Val d'Aosta, Piemonte and the Veneto. 

Given that history, you'd have thought they would have, at least, left a forwarding address.

This is pretty much what the publishers of La Cucina Italiana have done. It's been just over a year since they upped and r-u-n-n-o-f-t without so much as a cu-l8r. The website is gone and subscriptions have been forwarded to Bon Appetit.

I am not alone, there are a few others who were also a little upset at La Cucina's abrupt exit.  But, finding out that Conde Nast Italia has had 80% ownership for some time, it is not surprising, economic climates and all that.  But, from a country where the farmacia will gift wrap your prescriptions, in terms of customer service, this seems a severe contrast.  Let it be a cautionary lesson in typical customer service for Italophiles that live in the US or Canada, I hope this is the only bad experience you have with la belle paese.  As those who live in Italy know, it could be worse.  

Anyway. While my other half might define it differently, I have a modest collection of cooking magazines.  I buy some more loyally than others.  Of them, the one I, rarely, if ever, picked up, leafed through and placed back on the shelf was La Cucina Italiana.  It always managed to get into the basket.

And although I did frequent the LCI website as well, it was usually to get a quick recipe when I didn't have time or was too frazzled after a long day to remember which edition held the recipe I was after.  A website, while practically essential these days, was certainly no substitute for the glossy pages and recipes I went to again and again.  I understand that the internet age has made it easy(ier) to still get a recipe fix, but I find it somehow less satisfying to curl up with a laptop or other electronic device than a magazine with my cuppa.   

Magazine Mondays was born as a justification to use the piles of magazines and clippings in one Canadian kitchen.  It makes me wonder how many of those events and how many bloggers have included LCI references in their recipe reppetoire.

So, while the Italian original is still alive and eating well, the North American magazine and website are, sadly, no more.  I'm keeping a lookout for a website to resurface to ease the adjustment, and posts that may exist out there.. if you have one, I'd love to know about it.

Arrivederci La Cucina Italiana.

Ceci in Vulcania clay bean pot.

Pasta with Chickpeas

First, this doesn't have to be a 3 day affair, there are lots of more rapid versions of this recipe out there using tinned beans and the like, so no offense taken if you just want soup and not a multi-day project.  I soak dried beans overnight because we like the texture.  And second, I/we also have a preference for beans without the outer skin. So I go through the process to remove them.

Rinse 1 cup of dried chickpeas well and remove any extraneous bits (rocks or leaves).
Allow the chickpeas to set overnight in 3x as much water as chickpeas (3c)

In the morning, drain the beans and place in a pot (clay is great if you have one) with 1-2 crushed garlic cloves, a sprig of bruised rosemary and a bay leaf.  A coarsely chopped carrot and rib or two of celery along with other herbs you may favour are also fine to add. Slowly simmer this mixture until beans are tender but not mushy, about 2 hours.

When beans are cooked, remove form heat and cool. Now this part is optional: I remove the outer skin from the ceci.  This involves gently rubbing all the ceci between clean hands to loosen most and remove some skins, however, ultimately (and with all my free time), I pinch all the beans to make sure they are skin free.

When the beans are ready, you can start the soup straight away or refrigerate them overnight.

Pasta e ceci

Chickpeas (perpared as above) or from a tin
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or a mixture) - add a Parmigiano Reggiano rind if you have one
Coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced, no tough bits and strings removed
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 rasher streaky bacon or pancetta, finely diced
Few tablespoons of white wine
1-2 cloves of garlic

Combine oil and rosemary in a small saucepan; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat. Remove and discard rosemary. Allow to cool.

Add diced bacon to a fry pan and cook on medium heat until brown, a little water gets things started nicely and simmers off to let the bacon brown slightly.  Add the onion and cook until transleucent.  Finally, add all the remaining diced veg to the bacon/onion along with a pinch of salt. Cover and cook until just soft and then add chickpeas with a grated clove of garlic.  Cook until fragrant. 1-2 minutes then top with broth.  This is where I move the mixture back to my clay pot I used to cook the beans.  Cook everything together so flavours can mingle - until it reaches a simmer.

Remove as much of the chickpea mixture as you like to to mash or puree.  I like to remove only anywhere from about 1/3 to 1/2 of the chickpeas and only mash, not a smooth puree.  Return mash (or puree) to pot.

At this point, depending on how you like your soup, you could eat as is, drizzled with a little of the rosemary oil and some garlic or cheese toast.. OR you can add pasta.

This can be done two ways, by adding the pasta to the pot with a little water to cook with the soup OR cooked separately and added to suit. I like the latter if this is made for a weeknight because it makes more than we can eat at one meal and I don't like the texture of the leftover pasta.  If it's for 4 adults, you could go ahead and throw it all in one pot for one less pot to wash.

Divide soup among bowls, drizzle with rosemary oil, fresh cracked pepper and chopped parsley. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is always welcome.

Serve warm. 



Saturday, November 08, 2014

O Fiore Mio - Pizza!

A menu standard, naturally leavened dough, topped with buratta, prosciutto and drizzled with olive oil. 

Davide Fiorentini and Matteo Tambini have passion.   Their ristorante, lying between the cities of Faenza and Milano Marittima, is where something magical is created.  Their team (that extends beyond the establishment walls) has taken water and flour, time and temperature, and sourced the perfect complement of ingredients for each and every dish. 

Their humble wood-fired pizza, starting with that simplest combination of water and flour, is truly a creation borne of that passion.  They select their ingredients: flour, cheeses, meats, fruit and olive oils specific to each of the pizzas. Fruit seems the odd man out here on the chestnut flour pizza base (below), it was no more out out of place than the cheese topping.  As well, their fruit supplier (pictured below) grows an astronomical number of varieties of apples and pears with minimal to no intervention that are the perfect source of natural yeasts from which the dough is made. 

Seasonal chestnut flour base, Raveggiolo, crisp speck and pear (cooked in red wine) drizzled with vino cotto & olive oil.
Beautiful fruit - a great source of natural yeast and breakfast the next day!.
Sumptuous Raveggiolo.
 I didn't get to visit the restaurant (this trip) but lucky for me, this session was a new addition to the 2014 Terra Madre.  Held in the Sala Pizza e Pane or the 'Kiln', it is one that, if attendance is any measure, I am sure will continue.  Thank you to Sr. Fiorentini, Sr. Tambini, their chefs and producers for showcasing their naturally leavened doughs topped with ingredients chosen with care.  Paired with selected sparkling wines from northern Piedmont  - pizza like no other. 

The Team: proprietors, chefs, producers, and lucky participants.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Ottimo Ottobre

Heading toward the fountain.
It's the second time I've been to Italy in autumn in the past 3 years and my first October trip to the South. It was spectacular and I'll do it again in a minute. The crowds go home, the locals are back to their routines and the beaches are bare. That said, it was still wonderfully warm during the day, evening walks were pleasant with only a light maglia (sweater) and there is no shortage of things to do, see and taste.

San Giorgio Morgeto - Wednesday market

I spent a week in Calabria wandering around and visiting, getting poked fun at for my broken dialect and joking with the kids in English.  My hosts and the people who came to find me were all so generous.  Just being present when the family was cooking cinghiale over an open fire (to feed 18 people!) was one of the many highlights.

We took the morning before I left for Torino to visit the Bronzi di Riace.  The fact that this stunning find could have remained lost forever, gives me goosebumps even now! Check out  the crazy incredible story of how they came to be in the National Archaeological Museum in Reggio Calabria. Only one of the many fascinating gems of this region.  Admission to the Museo is 5 Euros for adults, 3 Euros if you are 18-25 and under 18 is free.

Bronzi di Riace - Bronzo B

If you get a flight to Rome, Reggio Calabria is a cheap Vueling flight away. Once you are there, the captivating medieval towns, rich history and the surreal flavours of the cooking make it so hard to leave.  But Slowfood, Torino and the land of Barolo were waiting.. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto

International hall at opening, Day 2.
Terra Madre and the Salone have been an inspirational experience.  So many others I spoke to while on the 5 day conference echoed that statement - overwhelming was another.

Visiting the International hall and speaking representatives from the various nations illustrated the human face of the Slowfood movement.  It put in perspective the fact that people the world over are not content with homogenisation of food, not willing to lose their food culture and traditions and that the Slowfood motto of 'good, clean and fair' speak to us all, regardless of our place on this planet.

May all who attended have a safe journey home.