29 January 2009

World Nutella Day!

In case you haven't heard February 5th has been declared World Nutella Day, by the lovely ladies consisting of Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso and Sara at Ms Adventures in Italy.
It's a time to indulge yourself and let you imagination take you on a flight of fancy to create a tasty treat to share on your blog om February 5th with all the other nutters, hazelnutters, that is. Or if you just can pull that together you could let said imagination go and take a picture of yourself or someone you know enjoying Nutella in their own unique way. (please note that this a family event!) You can find all the information about how to participate, at the the World Nutella Day post. You'll find links to the past 2 years round up of the event there also.
Here's a link to what I entered last year, Bugie, an Italian Carnevale specialty that makes it's appearance here in Piedmont every year at Carnival time.
So put on your thinking cap and join in the creative chocolate hazelnut fun!
Ciao for now!

26 January 2009

Pear Martine Tart

The weather is still quite frosty....so,
I couldn't resist offering up another recipe out the Nonna Genia Cookbook. This double crusted polenta tart filled with tiny heirloom poached pears, melts in your mouth, leaving you begging for more. Well, that's at least what one of our friends said the other night after his second helping. Next time he cautioned, "forget the rest of the dinner and serve only this tart, it's that good." Spoken like the true Piemontese man that he is.

Yes, I have been on a bit of a polenta kick, but, tis still the season in this part of the world.
Martine pears are an old Piemontese variety that are a small, hard and too dry to eat raw, so they are one of the traditional pears that you will find softened up by the wonderful process of cooking them in a wine bath with plenty of spices. It can be white or red, or you may poach them in a spicy simple syrup. I cooked up a batch enough for the tart and to savor while still warm and fragrant just after the flame goes off. The ones you are using for the tart will need to cool a bit before you peel, slice and pop them into your crust lined tart pan. I cooked mine so that they were still firm since they will be baked in the oven as well. I added small whole plums that are about the size of cherries that I had bottled earlier this year and paired nicely with the pears to add a contrast in flavors between the buttery layers. I peeled my pears after poaching, although if you peel them before they will have a beautiful red color.
I was chatting with the market woman from whom I bought them, and mentioned this recipe from Alba in the Langhe, our famous wine growing region, and not quite an hour away from here. My little vendor lady is 85 years old and was amazed to hear about putting these in a polenta crust. Several other of the vendors were listening in and joined in the discussion. None of them had ever heard of a polenta crust for using with these pears. There ensued a lively discussion, between the stalls. I am continually amazed how different things can be in such short distances here. It makes me think about how cut off people were in the old days and the recipes here vary valley to valley to plains. It is remarkable to me, unlike in America when the latest green bean casserole hits one part of America, it spreads around the country like a virus.
I might just have to make a tart to take down there one of these days, but I think it's out of the question for this year, because I scoured the whole market the other day and nobody had any of these. So I guess that's one for next year and it's on to the next brand of firm pear to try.

Torta di Pere Martine
For the pears
500g (generous pound) Martine pears, (or any hard variety that will hold up when poached)
1/2 bottle of Dolcetto wine, or your favorite fruity red wine
300g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
10 whole cloves

Mix together in a pot that will hold the lot and simmer, covered, 45 minutes to an hour.
Remove from the syrup, reserve for another poaching or reduce the wine down for a sauce as an accompaniment, is another delish option.

For the crust
75 g-100g (1/4 -1/3 or so cup) flour
150g (1 cup) polenta flour, You could use corn flour, but it is much nicer if a coarser grind is used
100g (1/2 sugar)
100g (1/2c or less) butter, firm, but not right out of the fridge, cut up into smaller pieces
3 egg yolks

Small plums, like green gages, a handful or so
10" or 25cm Tart pan with removable bottom, buttered and floured.

Thoroughly mix the flour and polenta and sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, fork or as I did last time. with my fingers. I worked quickly so the butter didn't melt, but only softened enough to make a nice crumbly texture. I added the egg yolk in last and mix with a fork before gathering it up into a mound. I used a bit of extra flour to make handling easier, as it seems to need just a bit more flour. It will vary I think depending on your texture of your polenta. I let it rest in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. Then I divided it into two slightly uneven portions, rolling then out between sheets of parchment paper. Cling film will work as well, but you might need to refrigerate the sheets if they become too warm. The larger portion went in my buttered and floured tart pan before I layered thick slices of pears all round the bottom and arranged the small plums scattered on top of the pears. Cover with the second sheet and seal.

Bake in a preheated 350*F/180*C for 10-15 minutes, increasing the heat to 375*F/190*C for another 20-25, or until golden brown. Keep an eye on it as it is quite buttery and can go beyond golden quite quickly.
Cool before serving warm with a drizzle or drowning of wine sauce.

Cooks notes
The original recipe calls for peeling and cubing the pears before poaching. Then you pour the whole mixture in to a square pan that has been lined. I had visions of not being able to get the mixture out of the pan from the juices soaking through, so I reserved the liquid for a sauce to go along with and I liked the results very much. I think I would use more of the plums next time, as I enjoyed the combination. You could use cherries in place of the plums.

I find the curvaceous topping appealing, what do think?

22 January 2009

Let me Call You Tree Heart

Because it's Thursday and I know my friends Michelle, over at Bleeding Espresso and Cherrye at My Bella Vita always have an ongoing theme called "Love Thursday", I thought I might tag along with my find. Not that long ago on a stroll around the neighborhood, we noticed this tree heart that I had never noticed before. So here, have a heart today.

15 January 2009

Rib sticking Polenta with Cabbage

The weather has been cold and snowy around here, in case you haven't noticed by the plethora of snowy pictures that have been gracing my blog lately. So if you are looking for something hearty and comforting I think you'll find this will do rather nicely.
This recipe is based on one from the Nonna Genia's cookbook, that I was blathering on about in my last post. I love polenta and always have ever since I was first introduced to it, back in my vegetarian and first days away from home. Polenta here is a northern thing, where I grew up it was a southern thing. Any way I look at it, it is a comforting thing. It is a one of those comfy stodgy recipes that really relies on quality ingredients to lift it memorable fare. I used our local "Frutto Permesso's", organic stone ground heirloom variety,"Ottofile", as the base, along with potatoes from Papa Dante's garden. Savoy was my cabbage choice, since we usually have that type of cabbage all winter from the garden, and I'm rather partial to it. At the moment the snow is too deep to disturb them from their cozy snow bed, and hopefully we'll get to them later on his winter or spring, at least I hope so. I sprinkled a few grains of smoky sea salt that I picked up at the Salone del Gusto this year to give it that special flavor Merjin inadvertently had given it when she made here over Christmas. Fresh grated grana cheese and extra virgin olive oil pulls it all together for the proper finish. I thought I might make it a bit thinner next time, so that it is more of a soup that a gruel, but Fabrizio liked it just as it was, thick and creamy. I had some potato foccacia made that made a nice accompaniment. I will give you a basic list of the ingredients and if you would like more specifics of the recipe, write me and I will send them to you.
You can purchase the Nonna Genia cook book in the states from here.

Polenta al Cavolo

Savoy cabbage
cooked borlotti beans
polenta, coarse grain
olive oil, extra virgin
hard grating cheese

Oh yes and by the way, these are my photos and not theirs, but you could tell that couldn't you!

10 January 2009

Team Delcious and Nonna Genia's Recipes come to life at Bella Baita

Normally what happens at Bella Baita, stays at Bella Baita, but on occasion I share some of our experiences with our guests, with their permission, of course. This holiday season brought us a group of adventuresome, fun loving, food journalists and photographer, from the Netherlands, who collectively work and free lance for the Dutch food magazine Delicious (in Dutch, naturally). Independently, they have a variety of projects on the trot.
Team Delicious plus Fabrizio, minus Suzanne
Their choice of Piedmont for the Christmas holidays reflected their ongoing love of this area's cuisine as they have been here on numerous occasions for work and play, just as they did this time. Merjin Tol, a food editor for Delicious and part of the Dutch convivium of Slow Food and fellow free lance food stylist, Nadia Zerouali have attended the Salone del Gusto on more than one occasion as well as exploring and sampling other Slow Food offerings here in the Piedmont region. Saskia van Osnabrugge, made up the third of this intrepid trio that ventured up to Bella Baita between our record snow storms, testing their mettle by learning how to get the chains on and off of their transports wheels. A bit of tutoring from Fabrizio and they soon got it down to a fine art. The spark plug in the group was Tariq, Nadia's son who kept everyone smiling and on track. No communication problems there, as he spoke Dutch to us and we spoke English with him and in the end we got there. Part of the holiday they were joined by the delightful Suzanne, another food editor for the mouth watering Delicious magazine. What a line up of talent.
They brought along a copy of the Christmas Delicious edition that featured their visually appealing collaboration with free lance food photographer extraordinaire, Saskia van Osnabrugge, that will have you running right out to buy up all the winter vegetables you can find. Check out Saskia's web site for a sample of her work that will tantalize you to discover more of her work. Merjin and Nadia's sites are in progress, but if you can read Dutch and love Arabic food, then I recommend that you run, not walk, out and purchase a copy of "Arabia", the recently published cook book that Merjin and Nadia's labor of love has produced, along with the gorgeous photography of another of their collaborators, Sven Benjamins, who did not make this trip, but, perhaps next time.

This intoxicating gorgeous cook book, come travel diary, will be a delight to their fans through the Delicious magazine. Fortunately/unfortunately, for me it has only been published in Dutch at the moment. Why fortunate you ask?, because I have had a quasi moratorium on cook book purchases, since I started working and living away from the US. It has been a hard habit to shake, because I love and lust after, beautifully photographed cook books that have wonderful stories to accompany the recipes. You guessed it, this one has all of those elements and whimsical illustrations that ties together this into a must have cook book package. If you have any Dutch friends that love Arabic food, then direct them to this book pronto! I, of course, will undoubtedly be breaking that quasi moratorium, as soon as the English version hits the shelves, and it sounds like that is already in the works. Merjin and Nadia cooked and ate their way thought out the middle east, southern Spain and Sicily with a variety of local experts. Now that I have spent a few days and meals with them I can only imagine what fun it must have been. They have a passion for real food made by real people and an elegantly simple style of presentation that will have you wiping the drool off your book.

Piedmont has been fertile ground for all of them and their foodie adventures, also known as work. This time was no different as they worked on a free lance project for one of my old favorites, the American cooking magazine, Saveur, in between skiing up at Sestriere.
They were working on developing some updated recipes based on recipes from a local cook book from the Langhe region, that I was not familiar with before, called, Nonna Genia.
This classic Langhe cook book is a combination tribute to the authors grandmother's cooking with some additional recipes by chefs of "Stelle del Piemonte" and to the trattoria by the same name in Grinzane Cavour, which I am assuming is run by this family. It is a classic collection of Piemontese recipes and indeed worth tracking down, now that it has been translated into English. It is available in Italian or English from here from in Italy from the Asti library or from Alta Cucina Inc in the US.

Working out in our guest kitchen
Team Delicious cooked up a storm, in our modest guest kitchen, while the snow fell on Christmas day. That kitchen had never seen such activity, even when we have taught some of our cooking classes there over the years. Merjin and Nadia made their interpretation of the books "Polenta with Cabbage" as more of a hearty soup and the "Pear Martine Tart" with the added attraction of on old fashion type of cherry to add another dimension to this delightful polenta based tart.
Saskia plying her craft
How do I know you ask? Well, we all gathered together in our more spacious dining room after they braved the elements and put Saskia through her paces getting just the right angle and backdrop of our neighbors old baita to raise these dishes up to new heights of deliciousness, to share a fine Christmas repast!
Women at work
In spite of braving the elements or because of, the soup tasted heartily wonderful, even with the unintended element of smoky flavor that our pans lent to the dish, as the guests kitchen utensils were not really the best for making a perfect polenta soup. I actually really liked that aspect and even incorporated it into my interpretation of this dish recently. I'll be sharing my results and tweaks on these recipes here in the next couple of days. Do come back as I think you'll find the results worth a try out as an addition to your own winter repertoire of comfort foods.

07 January 2009

"BookMe.com" an easy way to get outta town...

Bella Baita View full winter mode
I've been slow on the up take these days as I ease in to 2009. I have a few recipes and a great story about our holiday guests here at Bella Baita, but just haven't gotten them all pulled together just yet, but they are in the pipeline. As they like to say here, "piano, piano", or all in good time.
The big news has been the non stop snow and digging out yet again (see photos at the bottom). I know some of you out there are starting to think about where and what you might be doing for a holiday break this year and starting to look around, all this talk of snow has fueled the desire to do something about it. Shovel, you say? Heavens no! Get away somewhere, probably.
I know it was just Christmas but that winter time cabin fever starts to sink in as soon as the yuletide fades away. For some it's to ski in some of that fluffy white stuff and for others it's to get as far away from it as possible. Me, I like both. So where to find the best deal and get outta town you may be asking yourself?
http://www.ticketnews.com/files/bookme77x77.jpgA great place to make your way to as fast as you can is quite simply and aptly named "Bookme.com". I recently received a chatty email from a friendly, ambitious entrepreneur touting their website, that helps you easily find the best deals on travel options as well as tickets for concerts, shows and sporting events, so I figured it was a place to share with others bent on making some plans. That would be you.
The founders of "Book Me" were frustrated with trying to book tickets on line and having to "run" all over the Internet to find them. From their frustration this site was born, placing many sites together to give you the convenience and best choice of prices all in one stop shopping. Plus you are also helping them realize their dream to donate a portion of their profits to rescuing pets around the world.
It's incredibly simple to use and it has several options all in one spot to compare and make sure you are getting the best deal around. I gave it a little spin around the block looking for some flights and found several sites that I didn't think would come up on their site as they are European based, but they did, convincing me what a great site this is.
Have a look at their site and I think you will find it is an extremely useful and easy to use site that gives you great results, ie, great prices. My only word of the down side to it is, that if you are looking for off the beaten path and smaller operations like ourselves, then this is not going to direct you to us, but it will give you the best flights and car deals to make your way to get off the beaten path. So give them a spin and make some plans and maybe make your way here while you're at it to the Italian alps and Bella Baita Mountain Retreat while you're at it.

Enjoy some winter shots from here in the Italian alps of Val Chisone.

Bella Baita in full winter snow
Our entrance to Bella Baita from the street
Entrance to our flat
Entrance to the chicken coop

Ciao for now!

02 January 2009

French Border Sunrise View

It's been a wonderful holiday period here in Val Chisone. We have had a variety of guests, visitors and weather, all washed down with copious amounts of food and drink. I still have rooms to clean and loads of laundry to catch up on, so I think I'll leave you with a sunrise shot of our view of the lower Chisone valley and French border, before I get back into the groove of blogging along about life in our slice of Italy. Thanks for all the messages and good wishes. I will return shortly!
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