21 June 2007

Heart of the Matter Offering........."Fennel Beetroot Salad"

Let's see if I can actually get this post done correctly today. I inadvertently posted the pictures before I was ready. So take two.
I am finally making my first addition of a recipe on my observations and celebration of all things Val Chisone and Italy in general from my beautiful view at our mountain "baita." I have been encouraged, asked, inspired and very resistant to doing just that for a variety of reasons. First, my "tesoro" also known as my "marito", is of the Italian mentality that if we share our recipes no one will come for our cooking classes, but I say a recipe is a recipe and only as good as the cook. Taking a cooking seminar can bring it all to life and there's nothing like a bit of hands on guidance to build confidence in a sociable atmosphere, but I digress.
My main reason for not wanting to become a food blogger was that there are so many others out there doing such a fantastic job, and I am not good about defining my cuisine in a staid recipe. I love cookbooks, well written recipes, inspiring photography, and informative and personal stories surrounding food, but being defined by a recipe I find daunting(or maybe it's just being defined). I have always used recipes as a basic framework from which to either follow them to a tee or to make as many different variations. as suits me. Having lived in different countries, altitudes and settings for wild variations in numbers of people to prepare for, I find it challenging to define which measurements to use as I know many of you out there use different measurements also. I'm a wing it kind of cook most times. So I will try to be consistent in my use of measurements, but bear with me if I mix my measurements. Feel free to adjust everything to your taste, as I'm sure you will and we'll see how this goes. I didn't start a blog to become a food blogger, in fact I didn't even know what that was till I stumbled upon Cream Puffs in Venice and Lucullian Delights last year in my search for a recipe and started to discover all the interesting people out there going on and on about food and everything else too. Ilva of Lucullian Delights has been co hosting an event called "The Heart of the Matter" started by both Ilva and Joanna of Joanna's Foods . Back in January I dared myself to 5 things to accomplish this year. So with this humble but refreshing Fennel Beetroot Salad recipe, I am accomplishing a few things on my "to do list". I hope you will enjoy it and make it with many variations. I started this salad out with fennel and orange, then it was fennel and apple and then I got around to the addition of the smoky roasted beets that are found in abundance in our markets, especially in the autumn, but make their reappearance in the spring as well. Balsamic vinegar is a wonderful flavor, but will darken the fennel even more than the addition of the beets, so if you prefer a less muddied look to the salad you might want to use a light colored vinegar. Mint isn't every ones favorite, but I think it adds a nice perk to the salad in moderation, but is just fine with the parsley only. So enjoy, and know that this salad is not only tasty but a heart healthy addition to your meal.

Fennel Beetroot Salad

½-1-fennel bulb
1 large or 2 medium, beetroots, roasted or boiled till soft, peeled
2 oranges, red or blood oranges as they are called in the US

I use about a 1/1 oil vinegar mix and tame the tartness with about
2 times as much fruit juice, so you can adjust your measurement to your taste.
¼ cup olive oil, a fruity flavorful one is best
¼ cup balsamic or herbal vinegar
½ cup orange, apple or apricot juice
4 Tb mint, chopped (optional) and/or
4 Tb flat parsley, chopped
Salt to taste

➢ Cut the fennel bulb down the middle from top to bottom.
➢ Using a slicer or mandolin if you have one
If not, slice the fennel as thinly as you are able with a knife starting from the base end.
➢ Slice the beets into thick rounds and then into long matchsticks, depending on the size of the beets.
➢ Cut the peel and white lining from the oranges with a knife, leaving an intact orange.
➢ Cut each segment free from the inner skin until you have all the all the segments and give your left over skin a squeeze to retain all the fruit juice.
➢ Whisk all your vinaigrette ingredients together.
➢ Pour over the fennel and mix thoroughly to coat all.
➢ Add the beets and oranges and gently mix.
➢ Let the salad mixture sit for at least ½ hour to allow the flavors to infuse the vegetables. Serve cold or room temperature.

14 June 2007

Name that Wild Italian Orchid

One of my loves in this world are flowers, any and all kinds. I found myself after studying horticulture in my college days, (although my main interest was vegetable production and not floriculture) moving to the mountains of Colorado as the pull of the mountains was very strong for me, and still is. I found myself staying in the mountains because the promise of summertime high country wildflowers was just too alluring, although most people came to those mountains for the skiing. That love came to me later after sticking around for many years. I have not been able to resist mountains or wildflowers ever since. As I find myself living in slightly lower mountains than the Rockies these days, the vast array of wildflowers every spring and summer keeps me smiling and enjoying just poking around in my backyard. These purple ones are everywhere at the moment, and bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. We didn't really have wild orchids at almost 10,000 ft. Ladyslippers were as close as we got to orchids and they are very shy and elusive. Since coming to Europe I have enjoyed the vast array of wildflowers that the Alps meadows offer up, that is until the time comes for cutting those meadows for the cows. I remember one fine day when my group of walkers were oohing and aahing over a particularly abundant display of wildflowers on our way from Slovenian to a lovely Italian lake just over the border. When we returned later that day the whole field had been mowed and it was indeed a shock to the senses. Oh well, must be why the cows here are so contented and the farmers are able to make such wonderful cheeses in our region. Wonderful cheeses make for contented walkers at some other point. Contented cows munching on wild orchids and other yummy wildflowers. Nice image huh?

So although I love wildflowers I still don't know a lot of their names. I have also learned the hard way that whenever I casually call mother nature's gifts by name, someone usually comes along and names it much more specifically and accurately. Tramping around in the Slovenian and Austrian alps during my stint as a walking guide for a British tour company with lots of UK "Munro" baggers and other keen walkers and stalkers of nature for a few summers, I learned to wait until the group identified the discovered wild gentian or orchid before showing my ignorance. So I am hoping that someone will come along my blog here and give these beauties their proper name and if not, well then, we'll all just enjoy them as they are. This last photo is one I haven't found often. My neighbor brought it over for me to enjoy. These delicate tiny blossoms give off an intoxicating fragrance reminiscent of jasmine. An exquisite sweetness when you get up close and breathe deeply. I highly recommend it.
So if anyone cares to share their knowledge, name any of these orchids and we'll all be the wiser.

12 June 2007

Festa della Repubblica , Late of course

Continuing on with the review of the past few...events, days, things that interest me, et al, I found myself on the tour of Torino with my brother and sister in law, on what turned out to be Festa della Repubblica. Having worked in the tourist industry my entire adult life, I am quite use to working when everyone else is on holiday, so I seldom have the experience of crowds during peak holidays. Perhaps that was why I pleasantly surprised to be in Torino on a lively day indeed. It reminded me of Memorial day in the US with a bit of parading and strolling around. It seemed to usher in the summer season just as it does in America, with friends and family bar-b-queuing at home or eating out. It was quite a fun day out. As a B&B host, I find that if our guests want to mix relaxing in with seeing the sights, they're going to have to be very organized to make sure that their time fits in with Italy's lifestyle. Most tourist attractions, such as museums and such are closed on Mondays and usually break for lunch at 12:30 till 15:30 without fail, daily. The cities are a bit better about being open more round the clock, but not always. I always want our guests to be able to relax and yet, see as much as they want to fit in. A tall order it seems here in the land of siesta. Heaven forbid, that you might have staggered staff lunches at the touristic sites, so that the tourists who felt like lingering over a leisurely breakfast before setting off in the morning to conquer the daunting list of places to go, things to do, things to see, might actually see and do a fair amount on said list.
Michele, I still have yet to see the inside of it yet. I just can't hurry up people when I know they are tired and it's going to be a long day out. It just doesn't seem right to be on a rigid schedule. Of course, we started off from our house just in time to make sure we missed the timing to see the inside of most of the tourist attractions. On 5 visits with friends and family to Sacra San Michele on vacation when it's pleasant to enjoy the tranquility of our mountains, as well as catching up over coffee and pastries. So we enjoy the impressive monastery from the lovely drive past Avigliana lakes and the bucolic scenery of the twisting drive up to the still mysterious monastery that was used for the back drop to the Umberto Eco novel that was turned in to a cult classic movie, "The Name of the Rose", and ponder what it might be like to actually see the inside. I'm still wondering about the movie and book as well. Add those on the list as well....
Anyway, it was nice to arrive in Torino/Turin on a Saturday to a semi quiet town that still was serving lunch after 2pm and then cranked back up in the afternoon . I was a bit surprised at how packed Torino was and that there just seemed to be so much going on, complete with a procession of costumed people making their way to Palazzo Madama, reopened after 10 years or so of renovation. By that time we were just enjoying strolling around, soaking in the sights and keeping under the arcades like everyone else to dodge being soaked from the random rain, just like the King's walk was intended to do when constructed for the Savoy's so many years ago. Torino is always a great place to wander around and be surprised by it's charms.

Vi raccomando una visita!Cafe Baratti & Milano

04 June 2007

Review of the past few ......

Well this looks like it might be a bit of the tour itself also.
The Giro d'Italia has come and gone,
The Festa della Republica, June 2, come and gone,
and my brother and sister in law, come and gone also.....but lots of fun to savor over the next bit of time. The Giro d'Italia is to Italy what the Tour de France is to France. High energy, top notch bicycle racing over a grueling 3 weeks all over Italy with enough pain and suffering to last a life time, or at least till the Tour du France kicks off about a month later. The long road races, the breath taking mountain climbs and descents, often in weather just one step off snow on top to add to the effort. It's every bit as thrilling as it's more famous cousin, and taken just as seriously here not only by the racers, but by the Italian fans as well. Some of the racers use it as a training tour for the French tour. Ugh, gluttons for punishment or adrenalin/endorphin junkies I've never been quite sure which it is.
We had some of the support crew stayed with us when the tour rolled into our big town of Pinerolo, situated at the mouth of our valley, played host to the tour. It was an exciting couple of days, with last years Miss Italia ( a local Piedmont girl, second year running) coming to town the night before to add a bit of glitz and excitement to the event the following day. Our crew got up early to put up the various banners and advertisements that helps to keep this show on the road. The crowds were thick and the excitement palatable with loads of hype and pink afloat to keep the kiddies and parents all aglow with the anticvipation of the cycle race coming to town. The race to the finish line was marred by a light rain that started just before their arrival, making the sprint a slippery affair exacerbated by plastic ads placed on the last few feet that proved to make a dangerous spot where the pack started falling like dominoes behind the winners in an ugly end to an exciting race. Alessandro Petacchi, a long time favorite, won his third win of this tour and his 22nd win of the national tour. It was a fun day conjuring up memories for me of when Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond use to bring a bit of European excitment to Colorado when the "Coors Classic" race was still alive and cycle racing was a big event every year. Fabrizio reminisced about coming to the Pinerolo stage with his grandfather and it was a big day out from Serre Marchetto. It was nice to make some new memories.
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