31 August 2016

Serre Marchetto Mountain Trail Mix for National Trail Mix Day 2016

My Serre Marchetto Trail mix and local maps of our area
Who knew that August 31, was National Trail Mix Day? I didn't, that's for sure, until the folks over at Nuts.com let me in on this American designation. So, when they told me about a contest they are cosponsoring where the winner of the contest's recipe will be featured on their Nuts.com blog, I thought it would be fun to participate. What's not to love about making a great snack worthy of tucking into your rucksack, backpack, or hand bag  for when you are hitting the walking, running, cycling or traveling trail. I thought, hey, why not? Why not indeed, as hiking, or as the Brits much prefer to call it, just plain ole walking, is one of my favorite pastimes and our very own Serre Marchetto neighborhood in Val Chisone, Italy is just full of trails in every direction from our house. Our Bella Baita B&B -Italian Alps Retreat is a great choice for exploring the trails and beauty our neighborhood has on offer. 

All roads lead to Serre Marchetto, well at least some do
My husband has been making wooden trail signs, marking and cleaning paths in collaboration with our local chapter of C.A.I. (Club Alpino Italiano, passionate mountain enthusiasts), for a number of years now to reclaim our neighborhood paths for all to enjoy and find their way round our neck of the woods.
Some of Fabrizio's , my husband, handiwork

In collaboration with our "Regione Piemonte", Fabrizio Roncaglia and our friend Silvano Damiano, have worked tirelessly to clean, reclaim and map out our trails, putting all the trails on a GPS system. We are one of the first communities to utilize this equipment that literally puts our trails on the GPS system. They have made a small map of the area with descriptions of 6 classic walks in the area for all to use. We're really proud of this undertaking and happy to help make this happen in what ever way we can.
The Pinasca trail map resulting from all that hard work
This is an ongoing project with many paths being dusted off and made walkable for the public to discover and will continue to maintain the trails for years to come. 
Fabrizio, Silvano and Valentina, Silvano's daughter working on the trail signs and others coming along for the guided walk
 We live in the Italian Alps, off the beaten path, in the lower part of the Piedmont Alps where we are spoiled for choice, where every type of mountain exploring is possible. A high energy snack that is easily portable is a necessity to keep you going when the energy levels dip. Sounds like a handy, energy filled, natural snack is an essential part of what to take along when you are out on the trail, don't you think?
Hitting the trail in nearby Val Pellice
So why take the time to make a trail mix when there are so many options available and they are all just the same, right? Well no, not exactly. I have to admit, that often I find commercial blends to be just a tad boring or they don't have the right combinations or proportions of the ingredients I like, so making ones own is a smart and often economical choice.
So you say a trail mix is a trail mix, which is just another trail mix? Well, I might agree with you except I just happen to think that roasting your seeds and nuts make the flavors stand out rather than the somewhat bland and familiar raw taste of the seeds and nuts. Maybe that's just me. I like to  add a little saltiness by way of using soy sauce to the seeds after I have lightly pan roasted them to give that little "je ne sais quoi"? ( translates as "I don't know what" ), or what I think of as an added depth and flavor profile to this mixture, which for me, makes this combination a real knock out. Naturally, like most trail mixes, the amounts are variable depending on your particular preferences. If you prefer your mix without the saltiness or can't be bothered toasting the seeds and nuts, then by all means, don't, but I think you'll be happy that you did if you go to a little extra effort. Happy munching and tramping around in the woods, or enjoying this mix in all the ways this powerhouse of flavor and energy can stand in for your average neutral trail mix.
Serre Marchetto Trail Mix
Serre Marchetto Trail Mix Recipe

Yields about 5 1/4 cups

Ingredients:

1 c / 5 oz /150g          Sunflower seeds
1/4 c / 1 oz / 30g       Sesame seeds
1/4c / 1 oz / 35g        Pepitas or pumpkin seeds
1 Tb / 1/2 oz / 12g     Soy sauce
1/2c / 5 oz/ 150g       Almonds
1/2c / 2 oz / 75g        Hazelnuts
1c / 5 oz / 150g          Golden raisins
1c / 5 oz / 150g          Dried Cranberries
1/2c / 1 oz / 40g        Dried Apple cubes
1/4c / 1 oz / 25g        Goji berries
3 Tb / 3/4 oz /25g    Cacao nibs 

Method:

  • Measure out all of your ingredients so they are ready to toast and mix
  • I like to begin by warming up my heavy  cast iron skillet.
  • I toast my almonds and hazelnuts in the pan, stirring or shaking the pan to evenly toast to desired color. I tend to like them only slightly  toasted. Remove from the heat and set aside in a mixing bowl to cool until you add the other ingredients.  Place your pan back on the heat. **You can do this in the oven as well, but I don't like to turn the oven on for such a simple task that doesn't require a lot of time to achieve the right color and flavor. Your choice, just don't walk away and forget your nuts as they toast up fast either way. 
  • Now add the sunflower and pumpkin seeds to the pan and lightly toast them, stirring or shaking the pan regularly. As the seeds begin to get a little color I sprinkle the sesame seeds in and stir them to toast. Note that the sesame seeds will pop and dance about, so you might want to have a lid handy to keep them in the pan. 
  • Once you have the seeds to a light color, turn off the heat and add your soy sauce to the seeds and stir to coat all. The heat makes the seeds stick to the pan a bit, but also adds a bit of flavor as well. Let cool a bit before adding to the other nuts. 
  • Add all of your other ingredients while the seeds are still warm as they will soften the dried fruits and slightly clump up for your snacking pleasure. 
  • Let cool completely before storing in an air tight container. 
  • Take along whenever a high energy snack is needed. 
  • Happy Trails!!!!
Serre Marchetto Trail mix and local maps of our neighborhood

03 July 2016

Farinata, farinata... (Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?)

Farinata with Fresh Ricotta Cheese and Black Pepper

Ok, so just a little play on words from a song that I think many of us learned as children in our French classes, Frère Jacques or also know in Italian as Fra Martino...  "frère Jacques,  frère Jacques, dormez vous, dormez vous....farinata, farinata....ok ok, so I'm easily amused.

I meant to get this recipe post quite awhile ago as it does require heating up the oven and for some of you that may just not be in the cards for you these days, but alas life happens and blog posts languish. Here in the Alps we are have such a mixture of weather that turning the oven on is still a viable option. So if you plan to have the oven on for something else perhaps with a little planning ahead you might enjoy this subtly flavored chickpea pancake. It's good hot out of the oven and in Piedmont you usually you find it served up  as big rectangular slices or wedges piping hot out of the oven, alongside pizza by the slice. It is usually baked in the oven in copper bottomed pans about 40 cm  or 15 inch round pans, traditionally, but you will also find it cooked in large sheet trays as well, just like focaccia. This culinary treat is native to Liguria and also a popular dish from Provence where it is called Socca. You can find variations in Tuscany and Sardinia as well. I'll let the 2 Mediterranean regions battle it out for which one is the birthplace of this dish.
At home I go for a bit of garnishing with sometimes just black pepper and lime juice squeezed over it once it comes out of the oven, right before serving. I like it with soft cheese slathered across it and maybe some chives or other fresh herbs to taste with a sprinkle of gourmet salt, or a sprinkly if fresh rosemary as well.  It can also be rolled up after smearing it with soft cheese and any other sprinkling of garnishes that strikes your fancy, like finely chopped radish, sun dried tomato bits, olive slices, capers, roasted peppers and on and on.  Fill and roll it up like a jelly roll and cut it into to swirled slices for finger food or stuzzichini. You may need to hold it together with some toothpicks to keep them from unravelling and easy serving as well.  Have at it and give it a whirl. It is delicately flavored, but for those of you, like me, that just can't get enough of that mysteriously subtle chickpea flavor, this is one to try.
 I hope you enjoy it.
Marla
Preparing the batter and pan for baking

 For the best results give the batter a long resting period for the chickpea flour enough time to absorb and soften, at least 2 hours and some recipes call for 8 hours. Mix it up in the morning or the evening to cook later on.
Farinata Wedge

Farinata al Rosmarino

Serves: 6 people


I have a large 12 "heavy pan with a removable handle that I use to bake this in to two different batches. Cast iron skillets work well also. I have used sheet pans, but it didn't work quite as well, but I might not have gotten the pans quite hot enough either, which is key to success. Hot preheated pans, then pour in the oil before pouring the batter in. This is the one of the main keys to success. 
This recipe easily halves and is good for just 2 people. 

Ingredients:

300g chickpea flour (10.5 oz)   (150g/ 5.25 oz for a half batch)
1 liter water, tepid (1 quart with a little splash more) (1/2 liter or quart half batch)
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground 
1 T salt (1/2 T half batch)
110ml extra virgin olive oil (3.75 oz/ 7.5 T) (55ml / 1.8 oz /3.75T half batch)
2 sprigs or so of fresh rosemary leaves removed from stalks

Method:

I like to use my immersion wand blender, but a whisk works just fine as well.
I will put the water in a tall narrow container like or a large bowl. 
Gently pour in the chickpea flour, whisking to avoid lumps. 
Add the pepper and salt, stir, and allow to sit in a warm place for at least two hours and up to 8 hours. the soaking time 

Preheat the oven to 230*C / 450*F 
Remove the foam from the top of the batter and stir in 110ml olive oil. 
Pour a further tablespoon of the oil into the farinata pan or frying pan and put into the oven until the oil is just smoking. 
Quickly remove the pan and pour in 1/2 of the chickpea batter. (I do this in 2 batches for best results in my pans you might have 3 batches with a cast iron skillet) 
The farinata should be thin – no more than 2cm deep. (If you make the full batch at one time, it will be thick and will need to cook longer, which is fine, totally up to your taste)
Sprinkle the rosemary leaves over the top and return to the oven. 
Bake for about 10 minutes until the top is brown and crisp and the middle is still slightly soft.

Remove from your pan if it is a no stick pan before cutting into to wedges and garnishing.
Serve warm with whatever toppings suit you.
Buon appetitto!

My happy husband Fabrizio getting ready to dig in

15 May 2016

Ride the Cottian Alps with an E-Bike


View of Monviso and Cro from the area just beyond our Bella Baita home.
As spring continues to come on here in the Alps of Piedmont, one can not help but think of getting out and about in the mountains as the snow recedes and the green takes over in earnest. The usual harbingers of spring, birds singing their little hearts out, wild flowers popping up sometimes only to have a layer of white cover them up to slow them down but certainly not able to stop the tide of green that is surely on its way. Thoughts of gardening and yard work turns to reality and signs of life are everywhere after a long winters sleep. Out thoughts have turned from the winters discussion to the reality of a day out mountain biking with a twist. 
Carlo, owner of Holitaly and Fabrizio of Bella Baita B&B
Our friend Carlo Grangetto of Holitaly has the concession for electric mountain bikes in Italy and has been telling us about how much fun they are, so, of course we couldn't resist a day out and about a few weeks back past, when he offered to take us out on a beautiful spring day in our neighborhood now could we? Of course not, and what a grand day out it was!  
Delivery and guiding service all included
He brought the bikes to us and after we adjusted them to fit us and a little practice with the ins and outs of gears and using a bit of "go get em" juice from the electric power, we were off and pedaling. 
We went back towards the end of our road in the Grandubbione area riding to the end of the pavement and off into the woods. We rode a bit of double and single track and a good dose of stopping to take in the fantastic views of our gorgeous Cozie alps. 

Views and challenges were just the right mix
What a fabulous day out enjoying the views and reawakening of nature and the feeling of enjoying our neighborhood in a new way. When you come to visit here there is so much to see and do and precisou little time to pack it all in, so the use of an electric bike with a guide to make sure you get the most our of your time riding in the woods is a great value I think. 

"Country roads....take me home...to the place, I belong....."

Carlo's guided tours are very reasonably priced for a full day out with a guide to make sure all goes smoothly, you really couldn't ask for more. On our little backyard jaunt, we made a stop for a piece of tarte tatin and a hot tea, which helped fuel us towards home. You can find all the details here on his site, Holitaly. It's still all in Italian,  but the English version is coming and naturally, we can always help you out with information too. 

We hope you'll come and stay with us this summer and give yourself enough time to add this wonderful day out on mountain bikes to your holiday. We're convinced you'll love it too.  
We're waiting for you!

20 March 2016

Agretti Spaghetti - An Ode to Spring

Agretti Spaghetti with lemon and blue Toma cheese
If you have ever had the pleasure of eating agretti, barba di frate, which translates to friars beard, then I know you have probably been in search of it ever since. This is a veggie that just screams "spring" to me. It's also called saltwort, and was once highly sought after throughout Europe for it's leaves that were reduced to ashes which were then used in the process to make glass. 
Italian Agretti. barba di frate or  Salwort
This harbinger of spring has a short lived appearance in the markets and when I spy them, I make sure to bring them home. It's a funny looking vegetable that resembles a bunch of skinny succulents. The flavor of these fleshy needle like leaves are a little reminiscent of pencil thin asparagus with a subtle and slightly mineral taste. 
Lightly boiled and then slightly sautéed in olive oil and garlic before adding cooked  pasta
Most of the time I lightly boil or steam them, drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. They do need a bit of salt even though I have confused them with seaweed, as they are sometimes referred to as land seaweed. I thought they would be salty, but they are not. Their delicate flavor is almost nutty sweet and they taste best when least fiddled with.  
Most agretti and spaghetti recipes I have found call for boiling them together before saucing it all with a gorgonzola cheese sauce and maybe a light sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts or walnuts. That sounds great, but in the end I found that I preferred a light handling of the cheese,  a few cheese crumbles on top and was fresh out of nuts and found that we liked this version very much. I preferred to boil the spaghetti and agretti separately so I didn't over cook the agretti. Next time I might start the spaghetti first and then add the agretti a little while into the cooking for a one pot wonder dish, and I will definitely sprinkle a few nut pieces, or I might just make just like this again, cause to me it was just that good. 
Moncenisio Blue Cheese
Agretti and spaghetti united 

Agretti (barba di frate/ friars beard)


 Ingredients for 4 :

  • 500g spaghetti 
  • 400g di agretti o barba di frate
  • 1 lemon, juiced and the zest from the peel  
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 100 g or so Blue cheese crumbles, I used a local toma called Moncenesio - ricotta salata or parmigian are other good choices
Method:
Wash the agretti thoroughly and trim the roots off from the stems.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Mince the garlic and have your other ingredients ready to go as it all comes together quickly at the end. 
Either cook your agretti first till desired tenderness, about 5 minutes and remove from the water and then add the spaghetti and cook till al dente.
or begin to cook your pasta adding in the agretti a little later so they cook at the same time. 
While the pasta is cooking heat the oil in a large flat sauce pan 
add the garlic and only let the garlic barely cook and then add the cooked agretti.
Cook a minute or two to coat and soften the garlic before adding the cooked spaghetti. 
Once all is coated with olive oil and thoroughly mixed, season with the lemon juice and zest. Season with the salt and pepper. 
Serve the pasta and sprinkle the pasta with blue cheese crumbles to taste on individual servings. 
Agretti spaghetti with lemon and blue cheese crumbles


08 March 2016

Happy International Womens's Day, again.

International Women's Day
Festa della Donna
(as we say in Italy) 
Yellow Mimosa tree
Another year has come round to the promise of spring and the international day of recognition of roughly half of our planets's inhabitants, women.  
I have written about it a few times over the years and so I won't go into any great detail today, but have added some links below to other articles I have written in the past if you are interested in a bit more information about how it started and what it is all about.  I think perhaps my fascination with this celebration is partially because it is pretty much non existent in American, in spite of the fact that it originated there. I also love the liberal use of yellow mimosa, which I don't remember ever seeing in the states, but reminds me of forsythia which is usually one of the first colorful plants to emerge in the spring and never fails to lift my spirits with the promise of spring and everything emerging after a long winters nap. 
Aside from these pleasant, if not somewhat frivolous points of interest, there is a serious side to this day of reckoning. This is also a day to focus on women's achievements and issues that deserve greater attention. Women have made great strides in getting equal pay for equal work, although there is still much to accomplish, as the western world has done more to advance the equality of women where much of the world not all women enjoy this human right. Women are also still vulnerable to violence, particularly, domestic violence and this is an issue worth speaking out  about so that women will get the helping hand they need to rid themselves of dependency in these situation. Not an easy task for so many, as it isn't easy to walk away when you have children that are at risk and times are not so easy for anyone in this time of economic uncertainty.  Issues of arranged marriages with child brides and women's health, to determine what is right for every women that will definitely navigate through during their lifetime, are worth the scrutiny and effort to find real answers.  No, it is not easy to solve all of these concerns, but together when we shine the light of acknowledgment and search for real answers together, then we all benefit in one way or another. 
So I say, hooray for women and what we bring to this world and to each other. May we celebrate our sameness and differences and always support each other, since you can never have too many sisters, mothers and daughters in your life, even if they are just that in spirit. I feel blessed with all of the different women friends in my life, and say say to you, thank you, for being exactly who you are. Bloom where you are planted. 
xoxo 
Marla

Previous posts on International Women's Day or Festa della Donna
Mar 8, 2006 ... Funny, it is, I believe, International Women's Day. It was on this day, March 8th, in 1884 that Susan B. Anthony addressed the United States ...
Mar 7, 2009 ... Do you celebrate International Women's Day where you live? You might also like: International Women's Day 2010 or Festa della Donna.
Mar 9, 2007 ... A Happy International Woman's Day to all of you out there of that ... In the US there is no official celebration of Women's day but Italy still ...
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