27 September 2007

Not Quite a Figgy Pudding

I'm done playing tourist for awhile, but still have lots of photos and stories to tell, but thought I would put in a fig cake recipe that I have been wanting to share for awhile. I had the perfect opportunity to add it to "Cream Puffs in Venice's" hosting of Sugar High Friday # 35 if only could keep up. Oh well, even if I don't end up in the list of offerings, I will at least have added this delightful cake to the blogosphere. This torte features a couple of my favorite foods, hazelnuts and fresh figs, two ingredients that weren't so readily available where I lived in the US, but have come to deeply appreciate their availability here in Europe. I can almost reconcile myself to the fact that pecans aren't available here when hazelnuts are. Living in Piedmont/Piemonte, Italy, with nearby Alba, home of Ferrero Rocher's famed Nutella , hazelnuts are readily available and an welcome addition to many of my baked treats. Although we are right on the border of the fig growing region, we still have had a good season this year, enough for tortes and fig jam too. I found this recipe a few years ago thumbing thru an Italian magazine and photographed the page as it wasn't mine, and now have forgotten which publication i got it out of. More than likely it was Cucina Italiana.
So make a great cuppa of your favorite brew and enjoy this light and nutty fig treat.
Torta di Fichi Neri (o Verdi) e Nocciole
(Black or Green Fig and Hazelnut Cake)
150 g butter, room temperature
120 g sugar, granulated
120 g pastry flour
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp Vanilla
pinch salt
120 g Hazelnuts, whole, very lightly toasted, then chopped fine*
8 whole fresh figs, green or black, (more if you like) washed and cut in half length wise

If you need to convert this to your measurement, try using Bron Marshall's very helpful
Cookery Unit Converter

Butter and flour a 26cm or 10" cake or spring form pan.
Use 40 grams of your chopped tasted hazelnuts to liberally sprinkle around the bottom and sides of the pan. I usually hand chop the nuts and use the finer crumbs for the pan and the coarser pieces for the cake later on. *My personal preference is a coarser chop so that the nut is recognizable later when you sprinkle it on top. They will toast more as they bake, so don't toast too far in the beginning.

In a medium to large mixing bowl, whip the butter with the sugar till lightened in color and texture. The whipping is what is going to make your cake rise without any other help from baking powder or soda.
Add the egg yolks and whole eggs and continue whipping till homogeneous and fluffy, being care not to over whip so that it starts to break down and separate. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt and blend. I add the flour to the butter/sugar/egg mixture by sifting it in through a large strainer, and gingerly hand mixing it with a whisk or rubber spatula, to insure a light cake.
Handle as little as possible and turn the batter into your prepared pan and smooth out. Place your cut side figs down in the batter in a ring, with the marrow part towards the middle of the cake. Sprinkle the rest of your chopped hazelnuts on top and bake in a preheated 160C or 300* oven till lightly brown and the middle is set. Cool before removing from the pan.

21 September 2007

Off to Play Tourist

Well, I have family in town or rather up here in little Serre Marchetto, the name of our little borgata, which is just a cluster of houses, inhabited by a handful of us hardy few and other wise weekend villas and baite (cabins). When the family makes a trip for the first time it's time to do the Val Chisone meander. We'll go up the valley to check out the Fenestrelle Fortress , making a variety of stops to enjoy the beauty of our upper valley, Usseaux for a bit of mural gawking, perhaps Lago Laux for lunch or just to see the huge stocked trout swim around in the very clear mountain lake a peek at the Pragelato Olympic ski jump on up to Sestriere World cup and Olympic venue, for a panoramic view of the upper Cottian Alps and impressive Chamberton peak, with a variety of other stops tucked away to discover. The drive up is impressive as you pass by the edges of 2 regional nature parks and a glimpse of mountain living, unvarnished and still maintaining itself in a changing world. Lined up tomorrow is Bra Cheese Festival, so we need to save room for all that tasting tomorrow and hopefully meet up with Rowena and Maddie from Rubber Slippers in Italy
as she makes another addition to her quest to visit 100 Italian sagre and festivals this year. She seems to be making good progress. We hope to make as much progress seeing as much of Piemonte and Val Chisone as possible too. I'll be sef ourom adventures later on.

14 September 2007

Do not forget the Herbal Vinegar

End of the summer around here is a busy time as I am always trying to make sure to put up all the delicious things that are coming in fast and furious. We had red and yellow bell peppers and peperoncini, lots of blackberries, elderberry, and not enough mushrooms. It has been a beehive of activity around all the coming and goings of our always interesting guests. So I thought I would just mention herbal vinegars to add to the list of things to put up for the winter before all of your herbs have finished up for the season. It always makes ordinary vinegar a bit more complex and intriguing when you dash a bit on your average salad. We eat a lot of salads and use a few marinades, so a variety of herbal vinegars add a bit of zip to things and uses up a bit of those excess herbs. I started out with a mix which came to mind, Parsley, sage, rosemary and time and it came out rather nice. I always have an abundance of marjoram, so a combination with some chives, hot pepper and of course garlic, is a staple around our house. One of my other favorite vinegars is to make a cilantro vinegar to add to my Mexican salsa in the winter as fresh cilantro is almost impossible to find. I always grow some in the summer and long for it all winter. When I'm mot eating it fast enough I end up with coriander seeds and that is not too bad of an option as well.
The main thing to keep in mind is to thoroughly dry your herbs after washing before stuffing a wide mouthed jar full of your favorite herbal combinations, add white wine vinegar and let them set for at least one week or two weeks so all the flavor of the herbs are leached out of the plants. Strain the herbs carefully discard the herbs and let your vinegar age for about 6 weeks for the flavors to develop. Fruits can be nice addition as well.
Experiment with different combinations. The flavors improve as they sit for awhile.
  • Cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, lemon or lime peel
  • Chives, oregano, thyme
  • Basil, Garlic, Bay
  • Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
  • The combinations are endless
I came across a site called Gardens Ablaze who has a fantastic list of suggestions of herbs to match with different types of vinegar, if you have the interest. Next it's on to flavored oils to use up a few more of those overabundant herbs. Stay tuned....

06 September 2007

Addio Luciano Pavarotti...

We awoke to the news of Luciano Pavarotti's passing today. It's is a sad day indeed for Italians and especially the Modenese, with the silencing of a national treasure such as Pavarotti.
Grande Pavarotti! The quintessential Italian with his love of food, family, football, home, and, of course, singing. I have put together a few videos I found on You Tube .
The first is Pavarattoi in a promotional video for his hometown of Modena where is speaks about all of his passions. The second is a short clip of his father singing briefly and speaking about the differences between his and his famous son's voice. Here on the news they featured a few old clips of his father singing at the age of 80 and still quite a beautiful voice. He told of how his son started singing at the age of about 6 or 7 and sang in the local cathedral. Another old news cli was of the two of them singing in that very cathedral together in 1978. It was quite moving. The last two videos are of Pavarotti's last public performance in Italy which was at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games opening ceremonies.

Travelogue of Modena with Luciano Pavarotti

Pavarotti's father

Pavarotti singing at the opening ceremonies of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics

and with Andre Bocelli

Farewell Luciano Pavarotti.......
you will be missed

04 September 2007

2nd Annual Mt Bike Baby

Sunday saw the 2nd edition of our neighborhood mountain bike races for children, created and organized by "Cicli Colomba" of Pinerolo have a successful turnout. Oreste Vola did a fantastic job once again of coordinating it all and getting all the local merchants to offer lots of prizes so that all the participants went home winners with booty in addition to the top three winners in each class receiving a trophy as well. We had a good turn out again this year, about 50 children along with assorted friends and family in tow, so little Serre Marchetto was hopping on Sunday. The weather was cooperative also with the rain that had threatened never materializing.
New this year was a "gymkana", which was a course to test their technical skills and a big success to keep the day filled with activities.
Our neighbors "Il Gigante & La Formica" restaurant made a special 3 course, carbo load for the low price of 10 euro for the pre race traditional Sunday family lunch. Tem Association (Touristic Ecosostenible Montano) in collaboration with us here at Bella Baita offered a complimentary nights stay. The family from Parma whose son recieved this prize for being the furthest distance away to have participated, should find it useful for next years competition.
I couldn't resisit this picture of the little ones. They were going on a "passeggiata" of the course after the bigger kids had done their race.
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