28 August 2008

Pepper time treat, "Peperoni Mediterranei"

I've been savoring the bounty of the late summer harvest and colorful peppers have been an important mainstay on that front. We're in the heart of bell pepper country and they grow em big up here. We're not all that far from Carmagnola who are famed for their giant tasty peppers. The link I put in is in Italian only, but there a few photos of the varieties of peppers on offer for their "sagra" or pepper festival that starts tomorrow, 29 August. One of Fabrizio's father's hunting buddies lives over there and grows them commercially, so we always look forward to a crate of these colorful giants. In the meantime there are plenty in the markets and we've been grilling them quite a lot lately. These tuna filled peppers are a nice change of pace and delicious hot or tepid on the table as a substantial starter or one of an array of antipasti to sustain you on a hot summers eve.
We were served this last summer by our friends Silvana and Pino, from over past Pinerolo. We met them, as we did a number of interesting people, in the run up to the Olympics, due to all the different circumstances that brought people together during that exciting time. We dined al fresco in the shade of their lovely yard with a spectacular view of the plains, spilling out from just under their feet. Along with the filled pepper halves, we enjoyed some creamy Tomini slices that had been submerged under "oh so virgin" olive oil and fresh herbs, before the poached fish made it's grand entrance. Silvana is an excellent cook and she very kindly shared her mothers recipe for these peppers. Silvana's mother came from down south, Puglia I believe, so these are more of a southern style dish, but perfectly at home, served up here in the north. Silvana shared another very interesting recipe for soup with viola flowers, recently, but I think that one may need to wait till I have a few more popping up again.
I must remember to ask for her mothers lemon cake recipe, it was divine!

"Peperoni Mediterranei"
Mediterranean Peppers
Serves 4 (2 halves per person)

4 medium large bell peppers ( 2 yellow 2 red)
20 green olives
1 bunch parsley, smallish
1 garlic clove
1 T capers
3T parmigiana ( or a combo of Parmesan and pecorino, also know as romano in the US)
1 tin of tuna in oil, (7 oz or about 200 grams), drained
bread crumbs
olive oil, extra virgin

  • Wash the peppers
  • Place the peppers in a warmed oven and roast until the skins begin to blister and they peel easily
  • Peel and cut in half, cleaning out the stem and seeds.
  • Remove the white membrane along the seams as well and set aside in a baking tray or pan.
  • I like to line the pan with parchment paper to make it an easy clean up
  • Remove the stems from the parsley and place on a cutting board with the olives and capers
  • Chop fine, retaining some texture, add them into a small mixing bowl
  • Grate your garlic into this mixture, or mince very fine and add to the other mixture
  • Add your drained tuna and cheese (you can reserve 1 T of cheese and add it to the bread crumbs for the top if you like)
  • Mix well.
  • Season with a touch of salt
  • Fill the peppers evenly distributing the mix
  • Cover tops with bread crumbs
  • Drizzle a little olive oil on top of each half and bake till heated through
Serve hot or room temperature

21 August 2008

Tredici Laghi in a short Day

Monviso in the background looking into Val Pellice from Passo Roux

The summer may be winding down, but I'm still in summer mode. I can't resist another post about one of my favorite suggestions to our guests who visit during July and August, a trip to Tredici Laghi via 2 chairlift rides up to the top. The 13 lakes walk is tucked up in the back of the mountains of Val Germansca in an area called Prali, that we gaze across to every day here at Bella Baita, our view of the shared mountain border with France.
This alpine region is a gorgeously fun summer and winter playground. We love to ski here in the winter and tramp about these alpine meadows where the wildflowers are abundantly varied and the air is thin and crisp. All that hard uphill work made easy, thanks to the fine folks across the way, who run the Nuova 13 Laghi ski/chair lift summer and winter. We really enjoyed our day trip out and up there a couple of weeks ago. We especially appreciate the ease of getting up high, relatively quickly, since our time is limited to get up high as we usually need to get breakfast with our guests finished before we can slip away.
We've been sending all of our guests over to make the most of their time also and explore an area that use to be a military outpost for Italy built at the turn of the 20th century when Franco/Italiano relations weren't at their friendliest. The remains of the many buildings of the "casermette" that housed and sustained the soldiers and their horses when it was a thriving military operation are scattered about by some of the lakes. There are the remnants of a couple of old cannons by one of the upper lakes and several peaks and passes that give some breath taking views of Val Pellice and the wilds of France's edges. So, for the very modest price of 8 euros return, you can take the 2 chair lifts up, make a day of exploring the high alpine terrain on well marked trails counting off the lakes and buildings or making it up to one of said peak or a pass, before making your way back to the lifts before 5 pm and take the easy way down. It is a rather long walk down the home run but certainly another option. If you're not feeling so energetic, the "Capannina" mountain house will provide some mountain fare like polenta and sausages, or a simple panino, to sustain you and offers up a fabulous panoramic view from their deck, perfect for topping up your tan, or just soaking in the tranquility, before heading down into town. Ghigo di Prali is good for a bit of people watching and promenading about if you didn't get enough walking in earlier or just want to stretch your legs or have a refreshing drink or ice cream. If you didn't make it here for July and August, the lift is still open for three more weekends in September, so make sure you don't miss it this year. You could also mark it down on your "must do" list for next year and we'll be waiting for you here across the way.
View of the French border from the "Campanino" deck

Take a virtual tour of the Tredici Laghi area with the photo album below. We snapped these on our day out a couple of weeks ago.

10 August 2008

New Arrival!

No, no it's not a puppy or kid or anything like that!
The sound of a big truck laboring up our hill Friday afternoon had Fabrizio and I looking at each other and wondering what was making it's way up our twisty mountain road this time. He thought he knew, but thought they would call before just turning up. So we waited with baited breath to see if the big truck was coming to our back door.
And what do you know, it was.
A long awaited gift from my in laws was about to find it's way into our "in progress" Olympia room. Everyone in Italy has been wishing us and everyone else in sight, a "Buon Ferragosto", for the past 2 weeks in anticipation of the 15th of August. For those of us not from Italy originally, this means that you must go some where on the 14th of August and spend the night and be on holiday even if it's for a day only or suffer the shame of telling people that you will be working and not going anywhere this year.
Allora! Poverina!
It's just not done! You must go somehwere or give the appearnce of going somewhere, even if it means taking your plants round to the neighbors to water, and then sneak back home to stay in a darkened house and make eveyone thing you went on holiday. I kid you not. It's that serious.
We were in a small grocery store check out line early last week and the cashier was lamenting that he had to work Ferragosto, all day long, all by himself. Oh cavalo!
Well you see for us, we have guests anyway, so we can just pretend we're on holiday with everyone else, right?
Ok, so I digress, there really is a point to this missive. The said big truck with the said big delivery was coming because they were all going on holiday for a couple of weeks and wanted to make sure we had our new arrival.
How thoughtful indeed!

Easy does it!

Nice huh!
Guess what this means, after yet, more renovation work? A new tool to use to keep my father in law topped up in olive bread and my mother in law happy with the way her pizza crust turns out and maybe, just maybe, down the line, we might even do some artisan breads with guests once we get the hang of it all. Maybe we can attract some other keen bakers to come on over and bake together. The possibilities are endless. In the mean time, even though we received a bit of rain today and it brought the scorching temperatures down a few degrees, I'm not thinking about heating things up too much just yet. We still have some renovations to make to get the smoke out of the room and such, but it is a welcome new addition to the family!
It looks nice lurking back there in the corner doesn't it.

01 August 2008

"Stagista" that's Italian for Apprentice

The time is getting away from me much like my small plot of garden. When I'm not looking, it's gone and changed months on me a couple of times. Hence I am running to get a few posts up that have been languishing in the background whilst we scurry about cooking, cleaning, and generally hanging out with our guests a bit so we can make sure they don't miss any of the things to do or see in our valley. So it's catch up time here on the blog along with my herbs, weeds and flower pots.
Final Project
In our effort put our part of the world on the map we are always working in a variety of directions, using our interests and contacts to lead in directions not always completely obvious from the outset. One such side trip started to take root the when we were visiting in Colorado a couple of winters back. Our desire is to promote our local cuisine to a broader audience and hopefully bring not only greater recognition for the areas traditions, but also to bring people from other parts of the world here to share in our love of the local culture and Piemontese cuisine. We taught in Colorado when we have gone back to visit in private homes and through Colorado Mountain College, the local community college. When I lived in Colorado, I taught a few times through CMC and also through my job at Copper Mountain, when we offered a series of high altitude dinner and classes, in addition to wine pairings and other such offerings. I even taught the first pastry course for theKeystone's Culinary Arts program, that is now affiliated with Colorado Mountain College's Hospitality and Tourism program. I still have quite a few contacts there, even though it's been a while since I lived there.
One such contact came through in the form of an email this past winter from Kevin Clarke, who heads the 3 year Culinary Arts degree program for Keystone and CMC, asking me if I might have any contacts for an opportunity for one his graduates to work in Italy after her graduation in May. With Fabrizio's network of area contacts, he came up with a 6 month "Stagista" position for our CMC graduate, Rachel Giamanco, from none other than Dillon, Colorado in Summit County.
Rachel's ice carving
After many emails, Rachel finished her degree, graduated, celebrated her 22nd birthday, all in one week, broke her tailbone somewhere along the line and then flew 10+ hours to arrive At Torino airport, make her way on the buses to the bottom of our road here in Pinasca, June 1. Whew, what an accomplishment for a talented and mature young woman, who although is of Italian descent, doesn't speak Italian and had not been to Europe before. We were most impressed with her initial show of determination, independence and ability to make her way in the world, all by herself. We had already heard many positive recommendations from her director and knew she had received a scholarship from the Colorado Restaurant Association upon her completion of high school and their Pro Start program, which helped launch her onto solid footing to complete her CMC- 3 year associates/apprenticeship degree before arriving here in June. She has lived up to all the positives and more.
Rachel spent a week with us resting up, and orienting to life in Italy with a little interlude here at Bella Baita. She mixed in well with our guests and started to study Italian a bit more earnestly. When we had some free time we tried to take her around to see a bit of our valley before it was off to La Locanda della Maison Verte, Rachel's new home in Italy.
Maison Verte, is a lovely 28 room, family run hotel in nearby Cantalupa. Rachel is working in the kitchen for the season and has already picked another part time job in nearby Frossasco where she will be learning about the bakery aspect in addition to her regular kitchen shifts. It seems the Ferrero family has already adopted her as part of the family, making her time here even more special. She's seems to be settled in now and I have asked her to share a recipe with us when she has some time to gather her thoughts. Maybe if she has some spare time she might wander over to our friends at Dora Vini and try their wines when she has some spare time, as it's just down the street. I'll be making some more entries about her experience as we go along, hopefully. Stay tuned.
We recently all went over towards Asti in the Monferrato region and visit some friends of ours as well as took in a very nice castle/villa tasting some very fine wines. I'll save that one for another post here shortly. Now I need to make some pastries for tomorrow's breakfast, finish the pesto and make some fresh mint syrup.

Click to play Rachel Arrives in Italy
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