Please check out my latest location Guest Blog for Turin Italy Guide on:
More recipes to come soon!….
Here are another couple of posts I did recently for http://www.turinitalyguide.com which I hope you too will like!….
A ROMANTIC ALPINE FLOWER RISOTTO
LANGHE HAZLENUT MERINGUES with RICOTTA & FRESH FIGS
……and for a lovely healthy and easy pomegranate recipe click on:
ITALIAN POMEGRANATE HEALTH JELLIES
Hope you like them all…..there’s more to come!
alta langhe, carmagnola, grapes, italian food, italian travel, italian wines, italy, Langhe, mountains, peppers, piedmont, piemonte, soup, spiritual, toma cheese, travels, turismo, vendemmia, vineyards, wine
I know, I know!……I’m sorry I’m way behind on my blog but I?m working on the next one right now and thereafter I should be up to speed!
I haven’t been idly lounging around sunning myself on a palm-edged beach – more’s the pity! But I had an exciting offer from Turin Italy Guide asking if I’d like to write a weekly guest blog about Piedmont, a place I love, and its food. Naturally I was thrilled to be asked and so I said yes please…and grazie!
I’ve now written 3 – with another one being posted this weekend. If you’d like to read them here are the links:
We could be in the tropics at the moment with heat that rises to 35 degrees during the day followed swiftly by a monsoon-style storm at night….and I’ve even noticed some ominous bites appearing on exposed flesh early evening. That was understandable whilst we were weekending on the Italian coast but very strange to have these same hot sultry nights on our return home to mountainous northern Italy. Apart from anything else there are a lot of hot and very confused sheep around!
So with all this extreme weather I could feel a lighter more Asian-style supper dish coming on and one in particular I wanted to make was from my time in Indonesia. It was a dish of fragrant banana leaf packages baked in the ashes of an open fire. I remember opening the packages, folding back the leaves and this heavenly aroma of ginger, garlic and basil escaping and mingling with the heady smell of frangipani, the sound of frogs croaking in the rice fields and the rhythmic beating of the gamelan………well, it was paradise!
Banana trees of course don’t grow here in Italy – although I spotted a member of their family growing along the coast – that symbol of tropical flowers, the stunning bird-of-paradise flower. Inedible obviously, but not to the sunbirds who feed from what looks like the open beak of the flower.
My local fruttivendolo, resourceful as ever, rose to the challenge and produced the ideal substitute for banana leaves – an inviting tray of zucchini flowers which as well as being feather-light are perfect for stuffing. I’ve eaten wonderful zucchini flowers stuffed with all sorts of different Italian fillings but I wanted and needed something extra light.
In Indonesia the filling was made with tofu and although tofu isn’t a food that comes naturally to Italians it has now crept onto supermarket shelves, into new fusion restaurants and onto the shopping lists of a growing Italian vegan population. Because of its lightness, softness and blandness it can be incorporated into many traditional dishes like ravioli, cannelloni, pasta sauces, puddings etc.
SLIGHTLY TROPICAL ZUCCHINI FLOWERS
For 2 as a main course or 6 as a starter
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
1 x 250g block firm tofu
2 spring onions, fine chopped
2 tsp finely grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
½ red chilli, seeds removed & minced
2 Tbsp finely chopped basil
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp soya sauce (optional – use pinch of salt if preferred)
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 180C/350F
Mix together all the above ingredients – actually I put everything into my small food processor. As you can see the mixture ends up resembling a sort of crumbly herb ricotta.
Take one of the zucchini flowers – handle carefully they’re fragile – and gently pull apart the petals.
Stuff carefully, pushing down with a finger, then bring the petals back together and twist.
Lay all your stuffed flowers in a baking dish, drizzle with a little more olive oil and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
Serve warm with a salad
I stopped and chatted with a nomadic pastore this morning as he grazed his flock along the river. Well strictly speaking he, being nomadic, stopped to chat to me! We talked sheep and finding the best pastures – one of us quite a lot more knowledgeable than the other!
He and his dog are slowly shepherding their goats, donkeys and the lovely floppy-eared Bergamasco sheep with their 2 week old lambs towards the mountains, hoping to be up in the alpine malga in a few weeks time.
He’s making the most of the beautiful warm spring weather – life’s pretty tough otherwise for these guys and as he points out, the pay’s rubbish.
However, he does manage to make goat and sheep cheese as well as getting offerings of food and bottles of vino on his travels…..and as he says….you’ve just got to keep moving, keeps you healthy!
I continued my walk back home picking dandelion leaves along the way. All this talk of goat cheese made me want a cheese sandwich and I thought I’d make it with dandelion leaves…..these are the very leaves I picked!
However, this is not the very goat I got the cheese from…..it was sitting in my fridge at home…the cheese that is.
So for anyone who would like a new idea for a sandwich….
A Shepherd’s Open Sandwich
Local goats cheese on home-made seeded rye bread topped with dandelion leaves, toasted walnuts and diced strawberries….and drizzled with cold-pressed olive oil.
Dandelion leaves (must be organic) – if not use rucola or lettuce
1 or 2 strawberries
Slice some good bread – our lovely Ukrainian friend had just made us a wonderful seeded dark rye loaf so this was perfect.
Either leave as bread or lightly toast it
Drizzle with olive oil
Spread or slice goats cheese onto the bread
Thoroughly wash and dry the dandelion leaves and place on top of the cheese
Lightly toast some walnuts and put on top of the leaves
Then – for a touch of acidity and colour – I diced a strawberry quite small and dotted a few over (to give the idea of tiny wild strawberries!)
Drizzle a little more olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.
It was one of those slightly blah Sundays when even a trip to the Swedish giant IKEA was holding a weird sort of allure. Not that I’m one of those women described by an Italian comedienne as having a frisson of sexual excitement at the thought of a visit. How deeply sad would that be to be erotically stimulated by flat-pack furniture and shelving?!
On the other hand it may seem I was going to the other extreme by going to a former San Franciscan monastery for lunch. Built on the side of a hill amongst the Franciacorta vines near Brescia “La Cucina San Francesco” caters for those of us with more un-monastic tastes in food and wine.
Lunch was delicious I might add but we didn’t choose the standard fare of monasteries of old – soup or minestra. In those days it was almost unthinkable to eat a meal without starting with a warming broth to give the stomach “una piccola carezza”….presumably before piling into the heavy duty stuff.
Chervil I was told was a favourite herb of medieval monastic cuisine. The visionary medieval mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen is revered for writing, amongst other works, on the medicinal and culinary properties of herbs. She particularly recommended chervil for stimulating the appetite and as an all round digestive aid…..ideal therefore to use in a ‘primo piatto’ of soup or minestra.
I’d actually never used chervil but when I saw pots of it being sold in our local weekly market I thought yes, it’s time to try it out. The leaves look similar to parsley but have a sort of lingering whisper of aniseed. Delicate and lovely.
I particularly wanted to use violets after spotting the first ones of the year when leaving the old cloisters of the restaurant. A group of olive trees caught my attention swaying and rustling in the strengthening wind whilst peeping underneath were tiny clumps of shy violets still wondering whether it was safe to bloom or not.
I think violets are exquisite and obviously the Hapsburg Arch-Duchess Marie Theresa of Austria thought the same. They were her favourite flower and because of her later title and reign as Duchess of Parma in Italy, so the ‘Parma Violet’ came to fame.
These latter spring days I see our Sweet Violets nodding gently as I walk along my river-walk and bending down to pick a few the smell wafting off them after a few hours of sunshine is sublime.
Just as an aside….as well as looking and tasting lovely they’re full of Vitamin A & C and help with relaxation, sleep, headaches and colds. Grind up some fresh violets (or dried if you can’t find them) for a tisane or put some in bath for a total relaxation.
For 4 (small bowls)
Preparation time: 3-5 minutes
Cooking time: 8 minutes
This lovely delicate soup, smooth and silky, really does give a gentle ‘caress’ to the stomach!
250g shelled or frozen peas (c. 900g/2lb pea pods)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chervil (or use chopped green fennel fronds)
150ml almond milk (buy in health-food stores or see below for making)
Violets for decoration (organic)
Heat butter and oil in saucepan and sauté the onion until soft, but not brown.
Stir in peas anointing them well with the butter and oil.
Stir in chopped chervil and season with salt.
Pour in water and bring to the boil.
Simmer for about 4-5 minutes or until soft.
Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes.
Pour into blender and blitz until smooth.
Pour in almond milk and pulse briefly to mix.
If you’re serving chilled, put into fridge to cool. Otherwise reheat gently in saucepan – without boiling.
Serve in small glass bowls (on olive leaves) and decorate with fresh violets.
1 cup almonds – shelled but with brown skins (cheaper that way!), otherwise of course you can use skinned almonds
2 cups water
Soak almonds for at least 4 hours in plenty of cold water.
Strain and put into blender with the 2 cups of fresh water & salt (just use less water if you want it thicker)
Blend until smooth.
Pour through fine sieve or cheesecloth to filter.
Use as required.
I can’t believe it’s exactly a year since that grey, misty day on the cliffs near Porto Venere, Cinque Terra when I stood gazing out at the Atlantic ocean, my cold hands clasping a steaming brown-paper package. Inside nestled a large hot slice of fresh-from-the-pan farinata, a sort of flat chickpea (or ceci) pizza. Oh that slice tasted so good!….and each time I make it at home I have that same feeling of warm satisfaction.
Thankfully this year, spring seems to have arrived earlier, bursting into our life with its vigour and colour. I for one certainly have more spring in my step and I can’t wait to walk outside with only a t-shirt and sweater and discard all those heavy layers of coats and scarves. Suddenly everything seems lighter and – dare I say it – easier.
Primroses, pansies and forget-me-nots are peeping up everywhere round us and yesterday our local heron flew back into town to take up his usual river vigil. Things are on the move and new life is appearing everywhere.
Farinata is really simple to make and uses chickpea flour or ‘farina di ceci’. Chickpeas are one of the oldest ‘legumes’, grown mainly in the Middle East but were also being eaten in Italy as early as the Bronze Age – usually in soup, as is still done today.
According to macrobiotics, legumes or pulses are categorised as ‘edible seeds that grow in a pod’ and as such carry and transmit to us the fresh new life-force of a seed just starting out in life. Perfect for welcoming in spring!
I’ve made small individual farinatas instead of the traditional Ligurian way of cooking a whole one in a large shallow pan, then slicing and serving hot with loads of freshly ground black pepper. These ones are easy and quick to do plus I’ve added herbs to the mixture and scattered over some freshly gathered spring edible flowers.
FRESH HERB & SPRING FLOWER ‘FARINATA’
For 2 (makes 2 medium-sized ‘fritters’ or 1 large but just double up the ingredient amounts to make 1 large one each)
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 6-8 minutes
100g chickpea flour (also known as ‘gram’ or ‘besan’ flour in India)
2 heaped Tbsp finely-chopped spring onions
2 heaped Tbsp finely-chopped parsley
1 heaped Tbsp finely-chopped basil
2 Tbsp olive oil
Sunflower or vegetable oil for sautéing
Edible flowers (absolutely must be organic), small tomatoes and fresh basil leaves for decoration
Mix all the ingredients – except sunflower oil – in a bowl and leave for 30 minutes.
Heat a small fry-pan over medium heat and pour in about 3-4 Tbsp of vegetable oil.
Pour half of the chickpea mixture into the pan and gently tip or ease with a spoon until the bottom of the pan is covered.
Cook about 4 minutes one side – or until lightly brown – then flip over and cook about 4 minutes on the other side.
Slide onto a warm plate to set aside whilst you sauté the other fritter.
Serve decorated with edible flowers, basil leaves and tiny tomatoes.
These are great on their own for a light supper or lunch with a drizzle of olive oil, some grated parmesan cheese and a salad.
• full of phytochemicals
• have a good amount of protein (if you want to eat a complete range of proteins just add some wholegrains, dairy or meat to your chickpeas)
• good source of soluble fibre helping to lower cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar
• aids digestion
I thought I’d take a different slant on St. Valentine’s Day this year…and focus on Goats! Not in a romantic way I hasten to add..…but because it happens to be Chinese New Year on February 19th and we enter The Year of the Goat – with its potential of bringing us more peace and harmony. We can but hope!
“Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality”
(Clifton Fadiman, FOUR magazine)
Peace and harmony however were not on the agenda at the Goat & Donkey Fair (La Fiera delle Capre e Asine) held in a nearby mountain village last weekend. We jostled our way through noisy, narrow streets lined with stalls of cheeses, salamis and wine; traditional wooden tools; everything for the home cheese-maker; sturdy alpaca socks; shepherds’ flowing black capes and brass polenta-making pans.
The air meanwhile was being blasted by hundreds of bleating goats and hysterical braying from the donkey section where a race was due to begin. This guy on the right was the main noisy culprit and made it abundantly clear why the left ear of the other was permanently bent!
Of course I loved the fair and enthusiastically bought up loads of goats’ cheese, it’s the least ‘fatty’ of the cheeses and as long as it’s not too ‘goaty’ I can eat any amount of it. I’m using some of it for my ‘stuzzichini’ – Italian nibbles to have with an aperitivo….which being Valentine’s Day will be a chilled bubbly Prosecco.
I’ve adapted a traditional local mountain dish called “Sciatt “– with the unfortunate pronunciation of “shat”! – made from cubes of ‘bitto’ cheese dipped in a batter of gran saraceno or buckwheat and fried.
I wanted to keep things ‘light’ so have abandoned the frying part and substituted the buckwheat batter with a crisp, savoury cracker and the traditional ‘bitto’ cheese (a mixture of cow and goats’ milk) for a light, creamy goats’ cheese.
ROSE PETAL GOATS’ CHEESE WITH DARK BUCKWHEAT CRACKERS
For 2 with Aperitivi
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes (+ 1 hour resting time)
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
(makes 20-30 heart-shaped crackers – if any are left over they’ll keep in a tin for a couple of days)
100g buckwheat flour (the darker the flour the more nutritious the crackers!)
30g stone-ground white flour
½ tsp good quality salt (Maldon or Himalayan)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp mixed seeds (I used mainly pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
Creamy, soft goats’ cheese – I used a small 80g cheese, but you could double this which would probably serve 4 people.
Dried edible rose-petals or any dried flower or herb (e.g. I know you can find edible dried rose-petals and lavender in Waitrose)
Buckwheat, one of the so-called superfoods, is actually a fruit seed not a grain but can be ground into a flour (light or dark – the dark being more nutritious) to be baked.
• Gluten-free (you could leave out the stone-ground white flour I’ve used to lighten it and make the amount of buckwheat flour up to 130g – you will probably need more water to make the dough.
• Regulates blood pressure levels
• Normalizes cholesterol and blood sugar levels
• Rich in fibre
• Reduces hypertension
• 1 cup cooked buckwheat has 86mg of magnesium good for heart and muscle strength
christmas, easy, festive, italian christmas, jerusalem artichoke, kids, light, mantua, no-pasta, nutmeg, pasta, pomegranate seeds, primo, pumpkin, ravioli, santa lucia, topinambur, tortelli di zucca, xmas, zucca
Twelve days ‘til Christmas and it’s just been snowing in the mountains. A clear starry night now beckons us outside promising roasted chestnuts, a glowing fire and a steaming glass of vin brulè mulled with warm spices! We’re celebrating!
Tomorrow is December 13th an important date here because it heralds ‘La Festa di Santa Lucia’ – but the kids are getting excited for tonight…..before Babbo Natale entered Northern Italy’s culture it was Santa Lucia, patron saint of light and eyes, who brought presents for the children.
Arriving by donkey on the night of 12th December, she distributed gifts of food, sweets and candles to deserving children but left only coal or ashes for those undeserving ones – although of course now the ‘coal’ is a slab of dark chocolate!
Along with their list of wants, the children originally had to leave Santa Lucia a cup of coffee and some bread, plus water and hay for the donkey…..I’m sure she gets more these days, even in our household us kids were firmly told Father Christmas liked a very large brandy and several mince-pies!
Santa Lucia was one of the first Christian martyrs and came from Syracuse in Sicily where they celebrate with a week of festivities, fireworks and eating, but – in recognition of her also saving the city from famine – they abstain from eating pasta and bread.
I’ve just discovered that she’s also patron saint of Mantua – very providential as I’d devised a no-pasta version of the traditional “tortelli di zucca” (pumpkin ravioli), a pasta dish originally enjoyed at the medieval court of the Gonzagas and now enjoyed by all!
When we visited Mantua a few months ago the city centre was under scaffolding, a reminder of the huge restoration work still being carried out after the 2012 earthquake which devastated the surrounding area and cracked some of the glorious medieval buildings of Mantua.
Earthquakes apart however, nothing could rock the stable foundations of the “cuisine of princes and the people” with its specialities of salame mantovana; cotechino (traditionally served at Christmas-time in northern Italy with lentils); agnoli in brodo and tortelli di zucca; luccio in salsa (pike); caponne still cooked and served according to the Gonzaga family chef’s 1622 recipe; gran padano & parmigiano reggiano cheeses; the famous sour apple and pear mostarda mantovana and light, flaky desserts such as sbrisolana…..to name but a few!
For my ‘no-pasta’ version I’ve substituted wafer-thin slices of raw topinambur or Jerusalem artichoke for the ravioli pockets, sandwiching teaspoonfuls of the classic pumpkin and amaretti filling between two slices.
I happen to love Jerusalem artichokes – raw or cooked – and being health-conscious I love to use them whenever I can (within reason as they’re not referred to as ‘windy’ for no reason!). They’re not only packed with B-Vitamins, potassium and iron but are also highly recommended for diabetics as they help to reduce and stabilise blood sugar levels.
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE & PUMPKIN TORTELLI
For 4 (as a pasta course – makes about 40 small ‘tortelli’)
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Preheat oven: 200C/400F
2 medium/large-sized jerusalem artichokes or topinambur
1 small pumpkin or zucca (about 1 kg)
100g grated parmesan cheese
100g crushed amaretti biscuits
50g chopped mostarda mantova (or use an apple or pear chutney)
Zest of ½ lemon
Salt & pepper
½ tsp grated nutmeg
Pomegranate seeds for decoration
Halve the pumpkin, remove all seeds and stringy bits and slice (you can keep the skin on).
Bake for about 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, then spoon out the flesh and put into a bowl.
Add all the other ingredients, tip into a food processor and mix until you get a smooth-ish puree.
Wash the artichokes well – I prefer keeping the skin on, but you could also peel them. I cut off some of the knobbly bits to make the slices more equal.
Finely slice both artichokes – it’s easiest with a mandolin and you should get about 20 slices per artichoke this way.
Spoon small amounts of pumpkin puree (very small teaspoonfuls) onto half of the artichoke slices and cover with the remaining slices.
Take a steamer – here I have my bamboo & wok ensemble.
The bamboo steamer-stack means I can fill each layer with ‘tortelli’ and steam them all together. But if you have another form of steamer you could put parchment paper between layers. Steam for 8-10 minutes until soft to touch.
Serve warm on separates plates dusted with nutmeg and grated parmesan cheese and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
All available roadside stops had crates of apples for sale and we sampled endless glasses of freshly-squeezed and hot ‘mulled’ apple juice at the local ‘masi’ or alpen farms (we now make this mulled juice for our winter and pre-Christmas Feldenkrais seminars: just substitute apple juice for red wine).
For the return trip we munched our way through packets of crisp dried apple chips. The trip turned out to be quite an ‘Apple Fest’!
Arriving home we just managed to catch the tail end of the annual “transumanza” or seasonal animal migration on their way back to the ‘pianura’ after summering in the high pastures of the Alpen Malga.
We happen to live in northern Lombardia near the Pre-Alpine Orobie Mountains with its Valtaleggio valley, famous for cheeses such as Taleggio and Bitto. But my favourite – as much for the name as for the great flavour – is ‘Strachitunt’ (pronounced ‘Strakki-tunt’), a blue cheese made originally in medieval times and still made from crude cows’ milk.
‘Stracche’ means ‘tired’ in the local dialect and because the cheese is made from the evening and morning milk of cows exhausted after their long walk to and from the mountains, it is called “tired cow’ cheese”. Love the name!
So…..here I have wonderful cheese…..I have crate loads of apples….I’ve seen glorious autumn leaves…..and I’m looking for a quick snack lunch, something quick and healthy but not a sandwich. I think leaves, leaves, leaves then I think of pastry leaves or ‘millefeuille’ and then I think of apples again…..and then…this ‘oh so simple’ apple-cheese-sandwich substitute came to mind!
Serves: 1 or 2 apples per person, depending how hungry anyone is
Preparation time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking time: c. 2 hours
Preheat oven to 100C/200F
Apples – 1 or 2 per person
Large piece of Strachitunt cheese – as Strachitunt is hard to find outside Italy, I suggest using something like a not too ripe Cambazola or firm mild Gorgonzola.
Fresh redcurrants (if available) or any other berry to decorate
Leaves to decorate
Wash and core the apples (you could also leave the core in)
Dry well and slice thinly (about 3mm)
Lay slices on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the oven for about 2 hours – turning them halfway through – until lightly browned and crisp. You may have to cook them longer if still not crisp, it depends on the heat of your oven and how thick the slices are.
When crisp, turn the oven off and leave them for another 30 minutes or so to dry out.
Thinly slice the cheese and layer up the apple and cheese slices
For decoration place on a lightly washed leaf and add a few fresh redcurrants or berries of your choice.
This is also great for kids – plus the dried chips keep well in a sealed container so you can snack on them throughout the day.