28 February 2008

An Artichoke for You and Me

It's till full on artichoke season and I haven't exhausted the many ways with fresh artichokes. As a kid I always loved them although my experience to them was only the marinated variety and much later as the frozen or canned plain ones. I loved them then and still do now that I have finally been able to really feast on them with out breaking the budget. The price has finally gone down this year to 10 for 4 euro and that's a bargain, this year. Prices have crept and jumped this year on all manner of foodstuffs. I am oh so happy that these have finally come down in price to enjoy them in their myriad ways of delightful dishes. Some of my favorites include inclusion with fresh pasta, risotto, fried, stuffed and baked, which is a far cry from my former experience only of boiled with fresh aioli or romanesco dipping sauce or the ever so tasty but oh so greasy hot artichoke dip that you find on many American starter or happy hour menus. It was quite the revelation when my next door neighbor mother- in-law pointed out that her favorite way was to eat then raw as a salad. Huh? Clean'em, slice'em thin and dress them up in a simple olive oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper and go. Goes very nicely with that crusty white bread I just made followed by a plate of pasta or hearty soup. Your artichoke must be very fresh and I would add that the flavour although sweet, it can be a bit on the astringent side, which for the uninitiated can be a bit surprising. A heavier flavored follow up course is recommended as this salad can sometimes affect the taste of your next course if your not careful. I served mine today with fresh piadine with melted Toma cheese.
Fresh Artichoke Salad
  • One raw fresh artichoke per person, any variety is fine
Cut 1/3 of the spiky top off
Remove the stem, trim the tough bottom off similar to the way you would judge asparagus and peel
Remove tough outer leaves of the bulb, be ruthless. You can save them and boil them for dipping in aioli later if you like
Cut in half lengthwise
You could leave them here for awhile if you want, but make sure to put in acidified water to keep from turning dark
Just before serving
Slice very thin in half moon style making you way up from the stem to the top.
If you find the leaves tough as you slice your way up, them discard a leaf or two till they are slicing easily.
Casually arrange on individual plates and season.
  • Good quality fruity olive oil
  • fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • sat and pepper
Let the individual mix their own on the plate and adjust seasoning as desired, of course.
Easy Peasy!

24 February 2008

"Royal Crown Tortano Bread" a "BBB" Event

When I found Ilva of Lucullian Delights's post about her joining a new group(BBB) , I perked up with interest to see what this gifted, prolific food photographer and blogger was up to this time. When she said bread, I was pretty sure I was in. I was even more relieved to learn that it was a closed group, but others were encouraged to bake along and become baking buddies. Sounds good to me. I have commitment phobia, although I do like to drop in and join in some of the food blogger events I have come across. I try to stay on track with my northern Italian theme here on my blog, so when the first bread they are making is an artisan Italian bread, I knew I wanted to join in at least this once, we shall see how my time and all these different events pan out, but I do think they sometimes put just enough self induced pressure on me to get on with some experiments I wanted to do all along. This appealing event was conjured up by Tanna of "My Kitchen in Half Cups" and some of her baking buddies and you will find all the details here for the BBB and a list with links to the sites of the 12 disciples who are joining her on this journey. Her blog is interesting and I especially like her page with her kitchen gadgets, be sure not to miss it. I found her photos and comments informative and helpful. Karen of "Bake My Day", has been entrusted with rounding up the baking buddies. You will find a very detailed recipe for the Royal Crown Tortano here. The other great benefit of these type of events is that you discover other sites and interesting people in the blog-o-sphere to check to boot.
Baking "Royal Crown Tortano", lived up to the hype of all the praise that I read on the different sites had showered upon it. Looking at the holey texture and dark brown crust, I was hooked. We had guests arriving so I figured it was a good chance to try it out. Being forewarned that this was a very wet dough, I knew it would be a bit of a challenge, but sticky wet doughs don't scare me, I was up for the challenge. Wellll.... maybe I will just make the no knead loaf also, that I know always turns out no matter what abuse I subject it to, just in case things don't quite work out as planned. I've baked a lot of bread both at home and commercially, but super wet, artisan doughs have their own personalities, and I found that it's always been my preference to do them at home. Too many variables in a high altitude ski resort bakery where the staff changes every season or more depending on everything. I could tell some stories about running a high altitude bakery with inexperienced 18-24 year old ski bums and boarder dudes and bettys. but that is another blog. You need continuity and consistency to take you down the road to success with wet dough. I say all that knowing that each time I make this bread, it will improve with experience, but I must say, it was surprisingly tolerant.

I used the metric measurements as I have a nifty new scale that works beautifully. I did however put just a few grams over the amount of water and failed to correct my slight over measurement of water. So much for handy dandy scale if you don't actually believe it when it tells you that you are a few grams over the recipe amount and adjust it. I knew immediately that my dough was too slack, especially after seeing Tanna's photos of her raw dough. Tanna's had more body to it, but I decided to go ahead even though I knew it was going to be tough to make the dough do as I wanted it to.

Let's just say that I made a fiddly recipe more fiddly, but that inaccurate measure, but I was pleased with the results. I say all of that to encourage you not to lose heart if yours goes all wobbly. I didn't add more flour, but I was rather generous with my dusting of flour when I turned the dough the first four times. When I reached the turning it out onto the and shaping the dough, it was very floppy and wouldn't old it's shape very well and I started to lose heart, but I continued to gingerly push it back into shape sometimes tucking some of the dough underneath, always being careful not to deflate the dough or over handle it. When I finally flipped it onto my baking stone, it lost a bit of it's shape, and looked pretty much like a flat tire. I was resigned at this point to having flat bread for the evenings offering. But lo and behold when I returned to have a peek, it had puffed up nicely, even if it was somewhat like an inner tube that has a bulge on it on one side. It didn't matter, because the taste was heavenly, the crust, crispy the first day and wonderfully chewy the next. Fabrizio my "pane" inhaling man, loved it and we almost inhaled it before getting any decent pictures. I definitely recommend trying this bread to feel like an old world Italian baker.
Ve la raccomando!

19 February 2008

"Lâ Calhëtta dë Prâl" a Valdesian Soup

Back to the Valdesians and eventually a soup recipe.
Our valleys have been referred to as the Waldensen valleys because at one point 97% of all Protestants of Italy ( they say it's about 70% now) resided in Pellice, Germansca and Chisone valleys with Val Pellice being the home of the governing body of the church and site of their university for many years before moving to Rome. The Chisone valley was divided by the river, with Protestants on one side which leads into the Germansca valley and Catholics on the other side of the valley and never the twain shall meet. Fortunately, time heals all wounds(at least so they say) and there really is peace in the valley today. Michelle of "Bleeding Espresso" left me a message about a village down in Calabria named "Guardia Piemontese" which is part of the same Protestant movement of the 12th century. Valdese, North Carolina, USA was founded in 1893, by a group of 11 Valdesian families who emigrated from the foothills here in the Cottian Alps to settle in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, when this area could no longer support the growing numbers of people. Historic Valdese, NC, has built upon their rich heritage and offer not only a wide variety of activities the have painstakingly reconstructed 15 buildings from Val Pellice in what they call "trail of Faith"
Others emigrated throughout Europe, South America, and other parts of the United States. We, in fact, hosted guests here at our Bella Baita Inn, this summer from Utah who were in quest of their family roots. They stayed with us during their exploration of the town of San Germano where Ronda Bonous's family had originated. San Germano is just a couple of villages down the valley from us and Fabrizio was able to facilitate them meeting with the mayor of San Germano and subsequently they met many helpful people in their quest for ancestry discovery. It was a fun adventure for everyone involved and lots of phone calls, translation, and running around the hills trying to locate towns, house, graveyards and distant cousins. We had fascinating daily updates of their progress. One other fun fact, was that Ronda's Uncle Junior Bonous, who had visited here years before is a world class skier and ski instructor. He was also an Olympic torch bearer for the Salt Lake City Olympics. They brought a fantastic DVD showcasing his skiing accomplishments and donated it to San Germano's Ski museum.

It was an interesting connection, since, we had the 2006 Winter Olympics here in our valley, of course. This past week we received a visit from the cousin of San Germano's mayor, who very kindly brought us a copy of a pictorial book of the Bonous-Crockett, summertime adventures in search of Ronda's heritage here and about the Waldensen history. What a delightful surprise. They certainly put a lot of effort into it and thoughtfully sent us a copy. I think they distributed a number of copies to their family and friends and very kindly recommended staying with us. A heartfelt thank you goes out to Ronda and Charles. We have so many interesting guests leading intriguing lives, that I could tell some tales, but I refrain form writing about our guests as I want to consider their privacy and would not mean to offend any one by admission or omission. I do think the Crocketts are happy for me to share their story and proud of their Waldensen/Valdesian heritage from Val Chisone.

The painted stones in the photo above are Valdesian women in traditional costume painted by a local Valdesian painter, Loredana Micol. Her depictions of village life and local costumes are charming and capture some of the local flavor.
Lâ Calhëtta dë Prâl recipe, (Patois dialect, which is different from Piemontese) is from a local collection of valley specialties. A flavorful broth with cabbage bundles, uses all the things you would find mid winter in your kitchen cupboard, sausage, farmers cheese, and savoy cabbage, ingredients most farmers would have put up for the winter. Add some crumbled grissini bread sticks, a Torino original creation, and found on most tables in this area and you have the makings of a simple filling meal. Perhaps many years ago they used hard bread instead of grissini, but I like the texture the grissini gives. The savoy cabbage is out of my little garden patch that is still under snow in spite of spring like weather, and always occupies a row in the family garden all winter for us and the chickens to make sure we have something green on the table.

Lâ Calhëtta dë Prâl

  • 250 g grissini or other type of dry hard bread stick
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 75 g grated Toma, (staginata, aged) cheese (Parmesan or some other type of firm cheese)
  • 1/2 - 1 cooked sausage, a mild and flavorful Italian style sausage
  • Medium large Savoy cabbage or Swiss chard leaves, remove the hard stem, cutting up into the green leaving a v when removed.
  • Good quality chicken or beef broth
  • Makes about 8- 10 bundles depending on the size of leaves and amount of filling used.

Crumble the bread sticks, I did it by hand with a bit of pounding as I wanted some texture Add the crumbled cooked sausage. Then the beaten egg and mix thoroughly. Add a small amount of stock to moisten. Mix in the grated cheese. Let set for a while so the liquid absorbs and the bread sticks soften. Take several tablespoons of filling and squeeze into a oval. Place the filling towards the v at the bottom of the cabbage or chard leaf. Fold bottom up and roll slightly, fold both outer edges in and continue rolling up till it is a compact bundle. If you have some flexible long leek pieces, use them to tie up the bundle, otherwise use lengths of string. Simmer in your broth for about 1/2 hour. Serve with a grating or two of Parmesan on top. 
"*Encore Performance" I had several bundles left over and not enough broth. I removed the string and placed a bundle in a pounded flat turkey breast and rolled them up together. Secure with a toothpick this time. Lightly flour and saute the rolls in olive oil, onion, garlic and finish it off with white wine Simmer till the meat is cooked through and cook till the sauce reduces down and thickens. It doesn't take too long as your filling is already cooked. Serve whole or remove toothpick, slice into decorative rounds or halves. It was a wonderful "encore" performance. *Fun name for leftovers*

17 February 2008

Waldensen or Valdesian Liberation Day February 17

The weather is foggy and damp and very fresh, as I've learned to say in these parts of the world. Not quite winter with the hope of spring dashed at the moment. My in-laws took one look at the black ice on the road and decided there were plenty of other things of interest to do around the house than negotiate all of our icy switch backs this morning. It might not be so lovely weather wise this morning, but it's a glorious day for celebration for a large portion of our Chisone, Germansca and neighboring Pellice valleys. It's the day that in 1848, the royal Savoy family issued the "Lettere Patenti", that finally guaranteed freedom of action and civil rights to Waldensens.
Who are the Waldensens and why they were they finally being granted basic human rights you might ask?

Our valleys are know as the Valdasian (Waldensen) because this is where Pietro Valdo(Peter Valdo)eventually came to reside along with his followers after being expelled from the Lyon area for his "heretical" views of the Roman Catholic church in 1177. The early protestant movement grew spreading throughout southern France and Northern Italy and beyond into Bohemia in spite of the Inquisition and being pushed further into hiding for their beliefs. These valleys were the stronghold of these resilient and resourceful people sometimes worshiping in caves such as Angrongna cave in Val Pellice to be able to sing hymns and worship together. For this they paid a high price in persecution. So when the decree for independence came they lit bonfires on the eve of 16 February in each of their villages up and down the valley to communicate that the long awaited liberation was at hand. Free to worship openly as they saw fit. Every February 16th the bonfires are lit once again, up and down our valleys with a display of fireworks to commemorate this momentous day. February 17th then finds the different congregations dressed in traditional costume of their village march with the local marching band to meet their neighbors and worship together that day. There are a variety of the carnival type pastries and cakes to share and much socializing whilst enjoying the sweetness of freedom to be had on this day. It's day to reflect on all that we so often take for granted. Even if the weather doesn't cooperate, the spirit still soars. The indulgence of sharing with your neighbors the simple pleasure of food and drink, out in the open, together in the center of your hometown. It's a pleasure worth commemorating every year no matter what the weather may do.
Tomorrow, I have a Valdesian dish to share with you. I think you'll find it a comforting treat.

14 February 2008

Valentine's Greeting and a heart or two for you

Happy Valentine's Day
Again high hopes of posting on another event that comes to naught.
I keep trying to learn how to use my computer and add on new skills only to find I still haven't mastered the basics.
Never having been Mac user and being a late comer to the computer world I am finding I still can't get even the basics of burning a cd , organizing my photos with out duplicates everywhere and on and on. It's hard to move forward when all the steps seem backwards and the help section doesn't seem to help because I don't seem to know how to ask the right question. I have just spent a few frustrating days trying to sort and organize and still not resolved. Prefer to be cooking or out in the sunshine,grrrr.
Oh yes back to happy VD.
Today is also another happy occasion for us.
Fabrizio and I got up early last year on Valentine's day and surprised our friends and family by going to Loveland ski area in Colorado and participated in their annual, "Marry Me and Ski for Free" event.

We're not your average couple, so we didn't have your average wedding.
We had been together almost 6 years and trying to juggle family, friends and continents and schedules was too complicated for putting together a wedding on more than one occasion, so we opted for a friends suggestion to another friend of ours.Valentine's day wedding on top of the world with 60 others couples(some renewing). I had forgotten about this event even though this area had been my home for so many years. When I told Fabrizio about it he said let's do it. So we did. Many folks thought we were married anyway, so we just had a lovely powder ski day near the top of the Continental divide in the Colorado Rockies. Sharing the day, the mountains, the skiing and the very emotional moment of saying I do in very cold atmosphere, still warms my heart to the core and makes me go all misty. If you want to see my limited photos I have a photo album here.
Many people dressed up, as there was a contest for prizes, but we opted for warmth. We also had to cut the celebration a bit short as we had already schedule a "Cooking in Your Home" class that night with some friends. The hosts, coincidentally, I had made their wedding cake many years previous when I worked at Copper Mt as the resort pastry chef, so that made it even more fun when we told everyone when we arrived for the class that night. We had a great party and our hosts kindly let us pick a special wine from their wine cellar. Our friend who put the evening together took some pictures that I have included with the same wedding photo album. My sister in law bought us red roses, a bit of bubbly and chocolate, waiting at the house for us when we returned as we were staying with her while we were visiting there last year. It was a delightful and wonderfully memorable day, I will cherish always.

So I was trying to make a tasty treat for the double occasion last night with decent results, but ran out of time to nail it completely down. The main idea was a chocolate pasta heart. Most of the recipes I ran across called for too much flour and not enough chocolate, so in the end I ended up with a cross between a sweet pasta and a pastry dough. I think it has potential for versatility and I think I will work on it for the future. Since it has been the season for frying, I continued on in this fashion and fried up the chestnut cream filled hearts and doused them with a bit of white and chocolate ganache . They would be great with a variety of sauces, especially to dip them in, raspberries and strawberries come to first mind, but we haven't been into town for awhile, so I just rustled up what the cupboards had to offer and it was a satisfying treat, even if the presentation lacked from rushing to feed my hungry man. Not overly sweet or chocolate but kind of fun. I think they are tasty with a simple sprinkle of powdered sugar for snacking on for a mid morning or afternoon merenda.
The measurements are fairly loose as my eggs were small and you never know from time to time what size you'll get from the girls, so adjust to get a smooth malleable pasta. I think I just might bake them off as a tart this afternoon.

Chocolate Pasta Hearts filled with Chestnut Cream

For the pasta

3/4 c cocoa
1/2 c confectioner sugar
1/2 c more or less flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten before adding
drop or two of vanilla or other flavoring, optional

Mix the flour, cocoa and sugar.
Add eggs and flavoring if desired.
Knead until smooth and shiny.
Lest rest at least 10 minutes and roll out till about less than a 1/4 inch thick.

I put it through the past machine to make sure it would work.
It worked beautifully as long as you flatten it enough in the beginning that it doesn't break first time through.
I only went down to number 4.
Try and see what works for you.

Fill with
Chestnut cream
I used a ready made chestnut puree that has brown sugar added.
I think a few chestnut bits or chestnut croquant, (caramelized sugar with toasted chestnut and then pulverized)
would be divine.
Or this mixed with a bit of mascarpone or ricotta.
The fillings are endless.
Drop by teaspoons on to the dough about an inch or two apart depending on the size of your hearts.
Spread a little egg white mixed with water around the edges.
Cover with another layer of dough.
Cut out shapes with heart cutter.
Mash the edges together with a fork.
I wouldn't let them set too long before frying or baking as I think the moister will seep through making them fall apart if you're not careful.

I fried mine and kept a watchful eye, as they only take a few minutes and are very easy to burn if you aren't careful.
I'm sure they would bake up also, might try that next time, but didn't feel like turning on the oven.

Quick white chocolate sauce
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sparking wine or milk
1/c white chocolate, chopped fine
1-2 Tb Grand Marnier

Bring cream and wine to just under a boil, remove from heat.
Add the white chocolate and whisk till melted.
Add the liqueur.
Serve with your chocolate hearts

Sauce ideas
fruit coulis, raspberry is always my favorite
white or dark chocolate sauces
Creme Anglais

13 February 2008

10 February 2008

Women's World Cup at Sestriere, Skiing the Via Lattea and Jack from Redacted Recipes

World Cup and Olympic Downhill course at Sestriere
It was another horrible day in paradise when Fabrizio and I decided to take a break from Bella Baita duties and go skiing up to the top of our valley. Fabrizio has been toiling away with a major remodel of our "disco" room to make way for our expanding cooking courses and efforts to showcase our local producers of all things gastronomic. I am always toiling away with the promotional side of of our business in addition to keeping us fueled and puttering along. So it was a welcome change when I received an email from Jack of Redacted Recipes suggesting that we might meet up while he was just over the hill from us skiing with friends. I didn't have to be asked twice. Having just discovered their beautiful and tasty blog not all that long ago. I thought it was would great fun to meet and wonderful to do it while skiing just over the hill in our back yard. I didn't even ask Fabrizio if he wanted to come at first as he is such a driven working man. I didn't think he would take a day off from the remodel, especially if the weather wasn't perfect, but what do you know, it was a glorious day and off we went to ski the Via Lattea and meet Jack at Sauze D'Oulx.

Arriving at the base area of Sestriere I was amused to see not one, but several 2006 Winter Olympics volunteer uniforms and even a media outfit and a Paralympics full outfit as well. And then I remembered it was the weekend of the Women's World Cup Ski races at Sestriere and preparations were well under way. I had almost forgotten what a buzz there is at a ski area when it's race day or even the few days lead up to a big event. I worked for a ski area for 12 years and lived in the ski resort area for 18 years, so it's a familiar feeling that was flying around. Early morning everyone is arriving, as I said before, the coveted Olympic outfits were out for the occasion, there was a helicopter landing just by us as we readied ourselves for the first run, while the Italian army was helping direct traffic, haul all sorts of supplies, the press and their endless amount of equipment. Up we went to the top of the Milky Way(largest connected ski area in Europe) for a breathtaking view of our valley on one side and Val susa on the other.

Val Chisone looking back towards Bella Baita

Val Susa on the other side of the mountain
And without further ado, we met up with Jack at the appointed time, swapped a few stories, ate a bit of lunch, soaked up the sun and then went for a few runs. I got to hear about how Jack and Ann met, although I just had a peek over at their site and see a more in depth and very romantic post about Redacted Recipes Jack and Ann's courtship(check out the tidbit about cocklebread). You can read about it here.
We swapped some other stories and then it was time to head back over the hill. Too bad the time flew so fast, as it was a great beginning of a fun blogging encounter. I just hope Ann can make it next time or at least sometime.

Fabrizio, Jack & Marla

08 February 2008

Carciofi Fritti

This time of year in the run up to Lent, I mentioned previously that this is the time for all things fried. Usually, it means the fried pastries of the carnival period, but I found myself craving a Roman specialty, fried artichokes. Allegedly, they are to Romans what French fries are to Americans, tasty fried morsels. I don't know as I haven't been to Rome, since I was a kid, so it's all hearsay to me. I've seen them made on my favorite lunchtime TV show, where the chefs battle it out for the the winning 20 minute menu. So I have made them a few times based on what I had seen them do, but was never quite completely happy with the results till I came across the trick I have been looking for to make a crispy light fried treat. Kyle Phillips of Italian Food of the web site About.com finally helped me achieve the perfect fried artichokes. Soak the artichokes in lemony water for an hour before frying. I have followed his recipe fairly faithfully with a few adjustments, as his original recipe called for 6 artichokes, but I found that the proportions were only enough for 3-4 large artichokes. I also didn't put the flour in the water, and it worked just fine.


* 4 artichokes (I prefer the spineless Sardinian or Roman varieties or globe as they are called here,
but any will work fine as long as they are fresh)
* salt
* The juice of 1/2 a lemon

* Flour, maybe 1/2-3/4c (put in a bag to shakes the wedges around in)
* A whole egg, lightly beaten
* Oil for frying

Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water, drop the rind into the bowl, and add a pinch of salt. Peel away the tough outer leaves of the artichokes, trim the tops perpendicular to the length of the artichokes, and cut the artichokes into eighths, lengthwise. You will have small feathery wedges.

Soak the wedges in the acidified water for an hour. Pat them dry and drop into the flour. I like to use a bag with the flour and shake them about to completely cover. I use one of those clear plastic bags that are hard to avoid, from when you buy your veggies . It is another good way to reuse them.
Dredge the pieces a few at a time in the egg, and fry them until crisp and golden in hot, but not really hot oil (you don't want the outside to burn before the inside is cooked). I find a thermometer is very useful once again if you have one.
Drain and lightly salt.
They don't stay crispy long, so try to time them to go right before serving. I tried them with just eggs whites, as I had a surplus, but although they were good, they didn't get quite as crispy.

Kyle Phillips's Fried artichoke recipe

06 February 2008

Stocking up or Fill it up Rosso!

It was a few days before the Lenten season and returning home from the market, when what should appear? A fully laden delivery truck with demijohns of wine careening around the bend. Ok, maybe not careening, but it did have a bit of a sway going, whilst coming up our small road. I managed to get my camera out in time to capture him squeezing through the narrowest part of the winding road (and only road I might add) up to our house. My sister-in- law says there are 13 switchbacks in total, but I digress. Each of the demijohns hold 60 liters of wine, so he was carrying a full load that day. Fabrizio said he was doing home delivery and could be delivering from over in the Asti/Barolo region on an annual trek for the valley's orders. I surmised that our neighbors might be stocking up before Fat Tuesday too. You don't see that kind of delivery truck careening around the hills where I come from in Colorado. I love the little surprises everyday life brings.

We don't have wine home delivery. We buy from a couple of different sources, one of our main ones being a local family winery just on the other side of Pinerolo,Dora Renato. We do wine tastings with them for our guests and also pair their wines with dishes that we prepare in our cooking classes also. That is always a popular class. We also buy wine from a cooperative not to far away from Pinerolo in a different direction and I had a good ole laugh the first time we went there to bring home wine for his parents. We pull up to the back of the warehouse and lo and behold, it's filler up Rosso! I could hardly believe that we were going to fill our demijohn with wine dispensed from what looked like for all practical purposes, a gas or petrol pump. That's exactly what we did. I have purchased wine from stores and cantinas with the large tanks and they have filled plastic containers from the spigot on the front of those, but I had never seen wine dispensed from a gas pump. I still smile when we go there. We go sometimes to pick up wine for his father as this is his fathers absolute favorite and usually the only wine that he will drink, even when we or guests bring over a nice bottle of something else, like Barbera, Dolcetto, or even Barolo, all considered local wines,mah, Papa prefers Bricherasio Cantina wine. I like it also, although I do find that it seems to vary in flavor depending on many factors it seems. Since it is a cooperative, all the local growers who are too small to really make a go of their produce bring it to the cooperative to let them make it into the nectar of the gods and get their fair share of the booty and let the cantina sell off the rest. Much easier for them I would think. It's a popular way for the small grower or dabble to make their years supply of table wine and have a few euros jingling around in their pocket. The cantina seems to be a popular place stop off for an occasional tour bus as well a few times when we have been by there.

Fill 'er up Rosso, per cortesia.

04 February 2008

Bugie Bugie! a World Nutella Day entry

Winter has returned yesterday, and just in time I might add. Why you say?
Well, because I was starting to get use to the idea that spring might just be round the corner and since it is the first part of February we know that Ma nature must be a bugiardo! (That's Italian for liar!)
So Lies Lies....the translation is for these tasty little carnival treats was the choice yesterday for a fitting way to celebrate carnevale, as well as make an entry for World Nutella Day February 5th
Nutella Filled Bugie  
Nutella filled Bugie
Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy, and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso, two Italian based blogs of note and always worth a read, created and hosted this event last year. (update, actually, Shelly, of At Home in Rome and on blogging hiatus, was the original co founder and Michelle is taking over her co hosting this year). We were traveling to the states this time last year and in a whirl of visiting family and offering cooking classes to keep us out of mischief, that I didn't have an opportunity to participate. This year I thought I would combine a couple of favorites, deep fried puffy pastries filled with creamy Nutella and offer them up to the selection of very tempting chocolate hazelnut recipes being compiled over at the World Nutella destination.
Nutella is close to my heart as a local Piemontese creation originating in neighboring Alba just over the road from us about an hour away and close to the heart of our wine and truffle country. Most people don't know that Ferrero Rocher, makers of the ever popular Nutella is located in Alba and not only produces this perennial favorite from Alba's bounty of hazelnuts, which lends itself to the production of truffles, (the underground growing mushroom tuber variety, not the chocolate confectionery variety), but produces a line of variety of other confectionery treats, like Pocket Coffee, Mon Cheri, Raffaello and surprisingly "Tic Tac". Fun Facts to know about Piemonte, Italy... I always like to point out the culinary treasure of our beloved Piedmont.

Anyway, I fiddled around with a variety of recipes that I found on line till I came up with something that suited me. Some recipes made what to me looked like Cenci or Chiacchiere as they called here were the fried strips of flat dough with a few bubbles and more like pasta. Here in Piedmont bugie is more like a richer version of a sopapilla that gets filled with Nutella or apricot jam. They only make their appearance during carnevale and will disappear shortly after Fat Tuesday. Speaking of fat, it seems that carneval time is also a festival of fat and frying. Every carnival pastry that I have seen made revolves around a batter or dough rich with eggs, and fried, fried, fried.
I worked for a local friends bakery a few years back during the carnival season and we made loads of Bugie and Cenci. I couldn't locate his recipe as it is on a scrap of paper somewhere in the piles of scraps of paper with recipes and ideas, waiting to be sorted, but came up with what seems to me to be very close. Most recipe I found called for a large amount, so i cut it way back to make a more reasonable amount of fried dough. The dough was tighter than it should have been, which leads me to believe that I will make the batter wetter next time and let it rest a while longer to insure larger fillable holes. The Ligurian variety calls for dry white wine, a splash of that might do the trick. If you find your batter is also too tight also, you can always slice them in half and slap on the Nutella or jam and sandwich them back together. No worries!

rolled out Bugia dough

Frying the Bugie

Cooling fried Bugie before filling with chocolate or fruit jam

Bugie Piemontese styleYields about 24 small pastries or enough for 2-4

30 g butter, soft (2 TB)
30 g sugar (2 1/2 Tb)
2 eggs room temperature.
pinch salt
250 g pastry flour or all purpose
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp orange flower essence or vanilla if you like
milk or white wine, 2 tablespoons to 1/4 c, if needed, which I think it will be
Oil for frying

Cream your butter and sugar till light.
Add the eggs, salt and mix well.
Lightly blend the flour and baking powder and don't over mix.
Add the orange flower essence, you could also use some orange or lemon peel for a bit more flavor though not traditional
and the milk or wine to make a very soft dough.
cover and let your dough rest about an hour at room temperature as long as your room isn't too warm.

Roll out in one go or 2 smaller pieces in a rectangle on a lightly floured surface, to about 1/4 inch thick
Cut into roughly 2 inch squares.
You don't want the dough too think or they won't puff as well.
Fry a few at a time in hot oil (375-400, a thermometer is very helpful), turning once.
Drain on absorbent paper.
Fill with Nutella filled pastry bag fitted with a medium sized plain tip. For Apricot jam you might need a larger tip, as the chunks of jam may clog.
If you don't have a sufficient puff, slice and spread Nutella or jam on one half and put back together.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

01 February 2008

Épi Loaves, for something a bit different

BreadBakingDay #6Bread is one of my more favorite things to make, which is good since I live with one of the most voracious bread consumers I have ever known. He has calmed down a bit from when I first met him when he put away almost a loaf every day, not to mention the 3 gelatos a day to boot. Lucky him that he has high metabolism to make short work of his daily bread. Most Italians in general can put the bread away, a fact I noticed when I first arrived in Italy and worked in a small "osteria", that catered to a wide variety of nationalities. When there were Italian diners, keeping the bread topped up or face some very long faces, kept me running to keep up. Italians tend to use bread as a utensil and an edible plate cleaner. Americans tend to eat bread as a course in itself, often as an appetizer till the main course arrives, as long as it's fresh, warm and comes with something to slather on it or dip it in. Broad sweeping generalization, I know, but.... I enjoyed making a "no knead bread" for Zorra's World Bread Day 07 and this months theme of Bread Baking Day was shaped bread. That very much appealed to me. So I decided to try and get in gear to add this to this months event hosted by Eva from Sweet Sins, who has some very perfectly looking pretzels on offer over at her site. Have a look at some of the past 5 events for some bread inspiration if you short of any.
I tend to make a lot of daily bread, simple hearty fare usually with my starter that I made from fermenting flour and water with grapes from the art schools terrace in Tuscany I worked for when I first arrived in Italy. It tends to have a holding power and complexity of flavor that I find useful when trying to make sure we always have the staff of life on hand. So for Bread Baking day I decided to make a "Pain de Compagne" or "Pane di Compagna". I used Peter Reinhart's recipe from his definitive "The Bread Bakers Apprentice". I do recommend his book as it is very informative and covers the gamut of slow ferment breads, which for me, is the tastiest type of simple bread. I am only putting a bare bones recipe here and I recommend referring to the recipe for complete details. This is a 2 day method and the results are delicious. It's an excellent bread for making a variety of different shapes. I find it is best served fresh out of the oven to enjoy it at its crispiest. I think to make the round loaf next time I would make the cuts on the long loaf and then stretch it into a circle. I think it deflated too much when cutting in a circle. I might try this recipe again using my starter to make the pâte fermenteé to see if it stays fresh a bit longer, but then, it was so delicious fresh out of the oven, is hardly made it to the second day.

Pain de Campagne /Pane di Compagne

1st day

1 1/8 c (5 oz) all purpose flour
1 1/8 c (5 oz) bread flour
3/4 tsp (.19oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055) instant yeast
3/4 c to 3/4 c plus 2 Tb (6-7 oz) water, room temperature

Stir the dry ingredients together by hand or in a mixer stand bowl. Add the water slowly till it all comes together.
Turn out onto a floured table and knead till smooth.
Place in lightly oiled bowl. Turn to lightly coat dough ball.
Cover and let rise for at least an hour till double.
Knead lightly to degas, return to bowl. cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight or p to 3 days.

2nd Day

3 c (16oz) pâte fermentée, taken from the refrigerator one hour before making the dough to take the chill off.
Cut it into 10 pieces and put the pieces into the mixer bowl and cover while it sets for an hour to come to room temperature.

1 3/4 c (8 oz) bread flour
1/3 c (1.5 oz) rye of whole wheat flour (I used rye)
3/4 tsp (.19 oz) salt
1 tsp (.11oz) instant yeast
3/4 c 6 oz) water, lukewarm

Add the dry ingredients to the pâte fermentée , start mixing and adding the water till all is incorporated into a coarse ball.
Knead the ball on a floured table top till smooth and pliable adding a few more drops of water if needed to make it come together.
Place in lightly oiled bowl, turning dough to oil and cover to let rise for about 2 hours till it has double in size. Your timing may vary depending on the temperature of your room and the dough itself.
Remove from bowl and try not to deflate the dough as little as possible.
Divide into 3 pieces and shape as desired. The long sheaf, also called Épi, is a fun shape and easy to keep the gases in your dough. Cut the pieces from the top of the long loaf with scissors, somewhat at a slight angle to the direction that you wish the piece to lie, alternating directions
I only made 2 loaves, and I think that the 3 would have made a better, albeit smaller, more crispy loaf.
Place shaped loaves on baking trays with baking paper or silicon mats that have been dusted with semolina flour, to help keep the dough from sticking.
Cover loosely and let rise at least 1 hour till the loaf is filled up and ready to bake.

Bake in a preheated 450° oven, that has a pan of water in the bottom, which helps make a crispy crust. Using a spray bottle mist the inside of the oven just before sliding the loaves in. Spray the interior 2 times during the first 5 minutes of baking. Try to do this as quickly as possible to retain as much internal oven heat and humidity as possible. Let the loaves continue baking for another 15 minutes or so depending again on your oven and how brown your loaves are getting. Rotate your loaves if need be for even browning. Loaves should be golden brown. I would err on the side of brown, mine in the picture are a bit light. We use to laughingly refer to very brown pastries that were borderline burnt in the bakery as the Euro browned look. It is true, that generally speaking, Europeans preferred dark, well cooked bread, where Americans usually go for lighter under baked pastries and such. Broad sweeping generalization, again, I know, but with a grain of truth in it.

As with most bread recipes, I find if I make them a couple of times in a row, then the results tend to improve with understanding.

Source: Peter Reinhart's recipe for Pain de Compagne from The Bread Baker's Apprentice
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