29 October 2007

Black and White Truffle Tracking

Having sampled many of the specialties of the Montiglio Truffle festival and purchased the coveted white truffle, with a black one thrown in gratis for good measure, we decided to move on.Part two of the Truffle tracking adventure took us on to Castellinaldo to the Marsaglia Cantina, for some wine to go with our truffles, since we were in the neighborhood. The Marsaglia family has been making wines in the Langhe region for 4 generations, producing delicious local varieties, Arneis, Nebbiola and Barbera on their small mostly south facing farm. Marina Marsaglia, always the gracious hostess welcomed us in even though we just turned up on Sunday without calling. Marina has worked tirelessly to bring their small family production the respect and recognition that it deserves. She is part of the "Le Donne del Vino del Piemonte" association of women winemakers, helping to put Marsaglia on the map. We sampled a few of their delicious wines before heading home for the evenings feast and later on as well.

As we got closer to home we decided to stop in our local wholesaler of Porcino in Dubbione, located at the bottom of our road and where my in-laws sell their over flow of Porcini and our wholesalers send on to Torino and eventually to many other point of sales around Italy and beyond. It's always an interesting stop to see the local cottage industry in action during the season. Arriving home we got busy cleaning and preparing the porcini and truffles for greedy consumption. Starting out with cleaning these ever so fresh funghi and tubers to remove all the dirt so there won't be any grit to detract from enjoyment later on.

The evening's menu consisted of crude thinly sliced porcino topped with shaved white truffle, dressed with a fruity extra virgin olive oil. Followed by Porcino and Truffle Risotto, which we were halfway thru before we realized we forgot to take any pictures and then a Secondo of Turkey Saltimboca accompanied by prefectly grilled slabs of Porcini. Yum Yum Yum...I'd like to have that again tonight, but alas not for another season I think.

21 October 2007

Stalking the Black and White Truffles of Asti

Actually it's more like stalking the elusive Internet, which one expects it to be there when you want it. In other words I'm happy to be back on line after 5 long days of frustratingly being off line. Although I do have to say that it did allow me permission to get my little neglected garden patches tended before the unusual early cold weather set in. There's snow on the peaks at the moment, that is further down than all of last year. Perhaps those predictions of a hard winter that my father in law keeps mentioning the signs of, might come to fruition. Stay tuned on that account, as they also say that when it comes this early, then it won't be much of a season. And so it goes with the predictions of the weather and whether or not it'll be a good mushroom season, ski season or fill in the blank. Discussing the weather; humankind's favorite past time down through the ages.
Whenever you start making arrangements 8 months ahead with guests for an annual event that is reliant on Mother Nature being cooperative, you can be sure you will not be able to predict how it will all turn out. So when some of our last guests told me how they were coming because they not only had a great passion for good food and wine, but a particular passion for porcini and truffles and were planning their trip around, I had a bit of a crossed fingers reaction. We are known for our porcini mushrooms here in our neighborhood, truffles are found out on the hilly vineyard area about an hour from us. I wanted their and all of our guests holiday to live up to their hopes and expectations, especially when people come from halfway around the world for mushrooms, white Christmas, sunny summers and food that knocks your socks off. So it was a bit alarming when our season wasn't panning out to be the banner season that it usually is.
So after all these months of corresponding, they have finally arrived and I start back peddling on expectations, telling them how it isn't a stellar year, but we'll find mushrooms and truffles no matter what, and on and on.Do try to imagine my surprise when they came back from a little stroll before dinner having only arrived less than an hour before and Jamie was carrying a plump ole Porcino that made her day, well actually, it made all of our day, to have such an auspicious beginning to their visit. So I started to breath a bit easier. When it came round to the weekend, Fabrizio called up his friend who is the president of the Truffle association of the Asti region to find out where to have luck with trying to purchase truffles. He recommended the festival in Montiglio, a hilltop town in the Asti region, as an alternative to the more famous festival of Alba. Alba is a bigger, sophisticated town and well known for their month long truffle festival every weekend in October, as well as the home of Ferrero Rocher of chocolate and Nutella fame. We knew we would be fighting the crowds and the prices would be steep. So off we went on a warm foggy Sunday for a small town festival that had something for everybody. It is not possible to just head off in the woods to search for Truffles, like here where the hordes descend like locusts at times. No, you can't just set out and search for truffles with your pet pig and dig up everything in sight. Oh no, you have to be licensed and only select licensed hunters are able to deal in the much prized treasure. All the vendors we saw that day had certificates. Upon arriving the seasonal fog burned off to give us a beautiful sunny day. It really was an excellent choice. Rest assured we were not alone in our quest for truffles. There was a steady stream of people out for a Sunday outing that didn't disappoint. The town was hopping with a couple of buses and a makeshift parking lot filling up fast. There were all sorts of vendors in the main piazza selling cheeses, wine, bread, juice, salami with truffle, books, jewelry and decoupaged nic nacs for the interested. They even had an antique car show with some great old Fiats too. Further past the main avenue of the truffle market in the center of town, the vendors making baskets and brooms, and all sorts of handicrafts snaked through the winding streets till you reached the top of the village where the Pro Loco were dishing up some mighty fine fare and the smell was intoxicating. Carne crudo topped with black truffle, cannellini beans and truffle, Tomini cheese topped with, you got it, truffle. The smell at times could almost be overwhelming, but we managed to hang in there and sample our fair share.It didn't take us long to find the truffle spreads and dips and finally the vendors of the very lusted after, truffle. The people were very friendly and everyone was having quite a good time. When Jamie finally found the truffle of her dreams, well, at least of her budget the woman was so taken with her that she not only added in a free black truffle to keep the white one company, but she even gave her a book about the town of Montiglio. It was a great outing, but it wasn't over yet.

In part two I'll tell you about the rest of the day, where we carried on for a bit of wine tasting before heading home to prepare our indulgence of truffles and porcini.

16 October 2007

World Bread Day 2007 No Knead White Bread

I've been wanting to post a bread recipe for awhile. An open invitation from Zorra to participate in World Bread Day seemed like more than a good enough reason to do so. I had taken a few pictures awhile ago, so no time like the present. This recipe surfaced on the web last year and seemed to spread like wild fire through the food blogging world. I came across it through some more unusual bloggers who really didn't blog about food, but whose interest was piqued to give it a whirl. I was more than interested and amused in the buzz that was swirling around this particular recipe. I think it was the concept that it sounds fairly easy as there are only 4 ingredients that hooked most of us into having a go. Of course, it is very easy and yet, not quite the no brainer that it appears to be, but can yield a very decent product with minimal effort. The crux of the matter is that it is a very wet dough, that is supported by the cast iron pot, which also gives it the wonderful crunchy crusts that is usually achieved by water pans in the bottom of the oven and misting the dough in the first 10 minutes of the baking.
So once you get use to flipping the dough into the pot, you're more than on your way to a better tasting loaf of bread. I am adding a couple of links to different sites who have some helpful information and step by step descriptions that will help even the beginner to feel confident of success. Jim Lahey's No Knead bread recipe
as seen in the New York Times article
that started the craze and undoubtedly increased sales of cast iron enameled pots
Rose Levy Beranbanm's
version, instructions and in depth discussions from many people and their experiences. I found this the most useful and instructive site. In the end as usual. I have found what works for me and it varies depending on if I use other flour and my natural starter, so don't be afraid to experiment and just keep baking loaves till you get what works for you. I seldom get the large holes in my bread for a variety of reason, but the flavor is there and for me that's the most important thing. Naturally, the guests would have trouble keeping the home made jam on their toast, so smaller holes are best for me. The recipe below is the original with a few changes, from me and a few others folks like Rose Levy Beranbanm. Feel free to change it suit your taste.
No Knead White Bread

Published: November 8, 2006 in the NY Times
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1 1/2 hours plus 14 to 24 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (468 g flour)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (0.8 g)
1 3/4 teaspoons salt (10.5 g)
1 1/2 cups water 354-grams/12.5 ounces water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran, or cornmeal. (I use a silpat dusted with flour and with the bowl covering it for the second rise.I put some flour around the edge of the bowl rim to try and keep it from sticking to the dough.) Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. More if it is cold and doesn't seem to be rising. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 3-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats (the original recipe calls for a 6 to 8 quart pot, but I have a smaller cast iron pot and it gives a the smaller pot which gives you a rounder loaf. If you want it wide and flatter, go for the bigger pot). When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1 1/2-pound loaf.

I found this video from Breadtopia on you tube, which is a simple straight forward approach for a good visual presentation and different from the original version of the NYTimes Mark Bittman version.

12 October 2007

Cheese every which way

Calling all cheese lovers!
If you have a special place in your heart for all things creamy, sharp, pungent, smelly, gooey, crumbly, unusual and downright intriguingly tasty; then the Slow Food Festival of Cheese, held in Bra, Italy every other year, is for you!
We enjoyed the extravaganza of cheesey offerings this festa had to offer. If you could wade through the mob to get to the samples, there was plenty to keep you wondering just how there be so many variations on such a simple list of ingredients, milk, cow, sheep or goat, a curdling ingredient or two, some flavoring from the vast array that nature has to offer and only seems to be limited by one's imagination or sheer necessity. The depth and breadth of the types of cheeses makes me proud to live in a country and region in particular that takes it's food so seriously. It is certainly a celebration of diversity.
It was a great day out and we made a sweep down to the Barolo wine region to see a bit more around, and add a few richly flavored Piemonte wines to compliment all of the wonderful cheeses after our outing. Nothing like the Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barbarescos wines to help balance and digest all those rich cheeses. Piedmont has so much to offer.

One other highlight of the day was getting to meet Rowena of the always interesting blog,
Rubber Slippers in Italy, her charming husband and the adorable and very photogenic Maddie. Rowena even was wearing the famous Hawaiian style slippers of the blog. It was all too brief trying to meet and play tour guide to my family in a very crowded festival. Perhaps we'll meet up again sometime when we're on our own.

So mark your calender for 2009 for a not to be missed edition of "Bra Cheese Festival'!

05 October 2007

Sacra San Michele.....at last

They say the 3rd time is the charm,, so the 5th time ,must really make it special, no? Finally after several attempts to have our timing right to visit this imposing monastery and back drop for the cult movie classic, "The Name of the Rose", based on the book by Umberto Ecco, ( See my Amazon selections in the side bar for links to both the book and movie),I finally make it inside with my 3rd sibling. One of our guest this summer had sort of panned it as they said it has been restored from being heavily bombed during WWII. That may be true, but it is truly an imposing structure stuck high on the hillside and overlooking the entrance to the Susa valley and the lakes of Aviligiana. The views are stunning and the monastery interesting , perhaps a bit austere, but then I thought that was part of monastic life. There are several of the Savoy royal family crypts here, making for an interesting tour . Sacra San Michele is also one of 2 symbols of our Province of Turin, with the Fortress of Fenestrelle being the other over in our valley and both are about the same distance from us with the Fortress being slightly closer and yet another reason to come visit our area and have a look around.

01 October 2007

Neighborhood Tour

View of Grandubbione from the end of our road
Agnelli Fiat Family Private Church in Villar Perosa

When friends and family come to visit for the first time we usually do some sort of variation on a tour of the neighborhood. Actually whenever any of our guests arrive for the first time we usually recommend some variation on the neighborhood tour. Of course timing and transportation or the lack there of has everything to do with what variation gets taken. Seasons, day of the week,(don't get me started on the "low cost tour of Italy/Europe on Monday" rant as that is another blog entirely) time of day, siesta time, August, and all of the variables that makes sightseeing in Italy a challenge for the average tourist. As one of our guests said, you have to be very organized to see and do what you would to do, other wise, "Domani", tomorrow or next time...a familiar phrase, which doesn't always work for our guests, but perhaps it keeps people coming back to Italy, because you just can not fit it all in. Well perhaps not, but them again, it might be the food. I know the food culture is for me one of the reasons I feel so at home here.
Then we moseyed through our "Abitare in Valle" valley museum open on Monday contrary to the rule that all Italian museums are closed on Monday (Rome & Florence excluded). So it was a fun day's outing here in Val Chisone neighborhood

Ghironda or sometimes known as a Hurdy Gurdy
Hannibal's bridge and the Dubbione river with Egret
Legend has it that General Hannibal camped here somewhere around 218 AD with his men when he passed through the alps with his elephants. He was recruiting the local tribes to make up for some of the purported 15,000 men he lost whilst making his 15 day march through the alps on his way to conquer Rome.

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