22 March 2009

Fresh Artichoke Lasagne Recipe for BloggerAid

As I count off the days till the end of the month and before I head over to London, I would like to make sure to mention the wonderful effort of some very dedicated bloggers, Ivy, of Kopiaste ,Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Giz of Equal Opportunity Kitchen and BloggerAid who have organized a social network called BloggerAid, and are publishing a cookbook !!! The purpose of BloggerAid is to bring bloggers together to help alleviate world hunger, one event at a time. If you haven't already discovered them and joined there is no time like the present. There also is a link to the site where you can find out all about the site in my side bar. It's free and there's no obligation, just a great opportunity to discover new blogs and friends.
The proceeds from the cookbook will be directed to the School Meals program, one of the largest of the World Food Program's efforts. I remember how much I looked forward to lunch every day at school. Imagine if it was the only secure meal that you had to look forward to for the day. What a worthy investment in the future.

So that brings me to the title of this blog, Fresh Artichoke Lasagne. You thought I'd never get there didn't you. Well, I'm just going to leave you a little appetizer of a photo, because I'm submitting the recipe to be published in the cookbook. So if you want this recipe along with a few tips, tricks and twists on this fresh home made layered pasta, then you'll need to buy the cook book. Naturally we'll let you know when and where that will be. In the mean time enjoy the photo and submit a recipe for yourself. You don't have to be a member or blogger to submit a recipe.

Find out how to submit a recipe here for the BloogerAid cookbook. You still have time. The deadline is 31 March. Join a growing group of bloggers and don't miss out on the opportunity to help make a difference in someones life.

Carciofi Lasagne

19 March 2009

Finding "La Dolce Vita" along with an Artichoke filled Foccacia

This time next week Fabrizio and I will be in London's Olympia Hall finding "La Dolce Vita".
No, I'm not talking about Maryann's wonderful blog by the same name, I'm talking about the London's 5th annual "most influential Italian lifestyle event" . There will be cooking schools, travel, property, food and wine, just to name a few of the attractions. We are going with our friend Enrico Bernard to help him hawk his superb elixirs, that feature the mountain flowers and herbs from here in Val Chisone and Germansca. You will find us in the Market area at stall M4. We'll be singing the praises about why you need to come and visit us here and try the famous and somewhat mythical "Genepy". We will, of course, have plenty of Barathier, Genepy and Serpoul on hand to sample, in hopes of enticing you to take some home. Fabrizio and I will of course be trying to entice you to bring yourselves over the pond to our "Bella Baita Italian Alps Retreat" for some mountain therapy.
Untill then why not make yourself a fresh artichoke filled focaccia and sit back, put your feet up and watch the original "la Dolce Vita' or perhaps "Il Postino" or some other such Italian movie.

Artichoke Focaccia

2 fresh artichokes, cleaned and sliced thinly
I cut up from the base to the tips of the leaves, discarding tough leaves as needed.
1/2 red or yellow onion
1 garlic clove minced
mixed dried herbs, I like oregano, thyme, rosemary and sage
Olive oil
white wine to deglaze pan
Fresh mozzarella
small tart tomatoes, Camarone and Costoluto, are coming in here from Sardinia and Sicily at the moment.
2 large focaccia squares, I made my own, but of course you can purchase them easily enough.
If you're looking for a focaccia recipe there are plenty of them out there. I don't always use a recipe and just wing it. I had topped this with black pepper and rosemary.

Saute your onion, garlic and artichoke slices in a small amount of oil for a few minutes till onion softens. Add the herbs, stir and cook a little more. You can deglaze your pan with a little white wine if you like. After it evaporates, add enough water to cover and cook the mixture covered till the artichokes are cooked all the way through, 10-15 minutes. Adjust seasonings with a bit of salt and pepper.
I only had a small piece of mozzarella so I chopped it into pieces and sprinkled it over the mix, just long enough for it to melt.
Slice your squares down the middle. I cut mine just big enough to fit in my toaster and lightly toasted them before piling the artichoke mix on one half. I didn't have any at the time, but some tart little tomatoes would add another depth to the yumminess..

16 March 2009

Strada Reale meets Museo del Gusto

We have been enjoying a variety of launches of several recent exciting projects that will continue to place Val Chisone on the map for it's wine and cuisine. It's also an opportunity for our local artisan producers to reach a larger audience and encourage tourism in our part of Piedmont. Last year our Torino/Turin province, initiated a project creating a wine road in our entire province to highlight all of our local wines. We enjoyed the inauguration of that effort a couple of weeks ago in Torino. Thus Strada Reale Dei Vini Torinesi, (site in Italian only) or the Royal Torino Wine Road, was born, with a lot of speeches and some sampling of the goods, which I must say, made the speeches more palatable. It's an exciting addition to the touristic promotion of our area, and is now, a reality.

Hot on the heels of this presentation were two more, that were even closer to home over in Frossasco, an old Roman town, home to Museo del Gusto, a unique museum dedicated to the history of food down through the ages. It is also home to our friends, the Dora family, of Dora Vini winery, where they produce their Pinerolese wines. The first, saw the opening of the "Bottega del Vino"in the Museo del Gusto. Most of the Strada Reale far flung wineries of our Torino Province are represented there, making it possible to pick up a few bottles in one place. The Museo del Gusto, now is a "must stop" point on the wine lovers itinerary. True to Italian tradition, it's not only about the wine. You must have food to round out your experience, especially if you find yourself at a museum dedicated to food. They have added in a sampling of Paniere products, which are some Torino provinces unique and highest quality producers of local specialties. You can see a sampler package, that Eataly has put together. We use some of the products here in our "Cooking Together" sessions. Some of our other friends products are there as well, Difinello Coffee and Bernard liqueurs, to name a couple.

The most interesting evening to me personally was the presentation of the movie "Inverno" by Andrea Fenoglio and Diego Mometti, the first chapter in a series of "Landscapes of the World", an attempt to supported by Carlo Petrini and Slow food. It is an attempt to explore the return to the cultivation of the land through practices that does no harm, and all of the inherent obstacles and benefits. I found the black and white film intriguing, haunting and ultimately troubling. It was filmed in February completely in the Pinerolo area. During this time period the landscape is as stark as the words of the people who cultivate and nurture the old ways of food production. Methods that have been squeezed out along the way with progress. Images of a man plowing his field along side of a road on which the other side was a wall of new apartment buildings, with relentless cars passing by between, hammered home the message. It's hard to hang onto the land and traditional practices when we are surrounded by unchecked growth. The film spoke volumes to all of these issues with just a pan of the lens.

We were pleased and honored to meet, surely the most widely recognized public face and spokesperson of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, one of its founders. He has also written extensively on the subject, with titles like, "Slow Food, the Case for Taste" and "Slow Food Revolution", to name just a couple. He is a funny and passionate speaker that can hold the rapt attention of a crowd. He is a very accessible man for all of his celebrity. He seemed genuinely interested in hearing about our efforts to bring sustainable tourism here and to join us for dinner sometime. Vediamo. We shall see. Stay tuned!

12 March 2009

Red Lentil Crostini / Crostini di Lenticchia Rossa

I am one of those people with great intentions that sometimes comes though on those good intentions. When I saw that that is was the 2nd birthday of the "The Heart of the Matter, Eating for Life" created by Ilva of "Lucullian Delights" and Joanna of 'Joanna's Foods', and later joined by Michelle of "the Acidental Scientist", I knew I wanted to join the party. If you aren't familiar with their sites do go over and check them out. You'll find a wealth of recipes from all the round ups on cooking for a healthy heart and we all know how important that is. There are loads of creative dishes and I dare say you will discover some interesting blogs to boot. Who says eating healthy has to be boring?
One of our guests recently asked for something with pulses for our "Cooking Together" session and it didn't take me long to settle on a recipe for red lentils that I had on hand. Italians are found of the green variety and are eaten liberally during the Christmas and New Years holidays for health and good luck. Red lentils are small and cook up quickly making them a satisfying starter to your meal.
The theme for this HotM is finger food and so this recipe which comes together quickly,and lends itself to many variations or additions, is a simple pate topping with lots of flavor for a crispy crostini. The flavor is very reminiscent of hummus, but no sesame involved what so ever. We topped our crostini with some of our thin dried apple slices, for a fancy yet easy finishing touch. My photography doesn't really do them justice although they are a tasty eye appealing antipasti.
Red Lentil Crostini
Crostini di Lenticchia Rossa

200 g or (1 cup) lentils or red lentils
1-1/2 cup water or vegetable stock
½ carrot diced
1 shallot diced
½ celery stalk diced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
6 sprigs of Thyme or 1Tb. Dried thyme
3 Tb. Olive oil and a bit more for drizzling
Fresh thyme or parsley for garnishing

Place in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil,
Add a tsp or less of salt.
Lower hear and simmer until soft enough to puree, about 20 minutes or so.
Smash with a potato smasher, kitchen wand or food processor .
Stir until you have a smooth but somewhat lumpy texture.
Add 1- 2 Tb of olive oil
Stir well.
Adjust seasonings if necessary
Cut crusts off the bread, to make toast points from soft bread disks, slices or triangles
Drizzle with a small amount of oil and bake till crispy.

Serve the pate with toast points, bread, crackers and raw veggies
Spread or mound with a scoop the lentil pate on the toasted bread.
Garnish with finely chopped parsley or a sprig of fresh thyme
Sprinkle with paprika or hot pepper if you like a bit of spice.
Arrange on a plate
Drizzle with olive oil.
Wedge a thinly sliced dried apple and fresh thyme sprig on top,
if you have some, for a finishing touch.

07 March 2009

Festa della Donna 2009

Happy Festa della Donna
March 8th is International Women's Day
There are all sorts of ways to celebrate this occasion, with food and flowers usually being part of the tradition. I have received a lovely sprig of Mimosa and a yellow pansy to commemorate the occasion. The hunters group of which my father in law is a part of took all of their wives out for lunch to day to honor the occasion. There have been marches in the capital today to raise awareness of violence against women and awards given to a variety of women for a variety of reasons. As I have stated before I find it rather peculiar that it isn't a holiday that has caught on in America even though is is where it originated.
I took this photo last year in Pinerolo after the festivities were over and wanted make sure to use it as it is such a lovely tree. This year we're a ways a way from the trees being in bloom, but things are melting out and spring is on it's way and that indeed is occasion enough to celebrate. Do you celebrate International Women's Day where you live?

06 March 2009

Pasta con Rucola

Yes, I think I did get a little carried away with the rucola, but hey, green is good, no? Perhaps I was just in need of a good green fix. This time of year when the thrill of root vegetables and cabbage has faded slightly, there's nothing like vibrant green rucola to add some zippity do da to your lunch. I was a bit surprised the first time I was served this pasta. I had no idea that Italians were so fond of Rucola/arugula/rocket, or what ever you call it in your part of the world. It was a revelation to find it on pizza and then pasta, but I have adapted and found it to be one of my favorites. Why not put a little salad on the top of my pasta. This is a pretty simple recipe that lends itself to all sorts of additions. I had a small corner of prosciutto crudo that I chopped up into batons and slightly sauteed, that made for a nice addition too. It's a good way to use up a few odds and ends in the refrigerator like cheese, or maybe sauteed zucchini and others that might be kicking around begging to be used.
The basic premise is to make a thin cheese sauce preferably with cheese that has some character to it, toss in your favorite pasta after you've cooked it and top it all off with fresh rucola. Garnish the dish with a drizzle of fruity olive oil a pinch of salt and pepper and you have a one plate wonder for lunch or a light supper. Balsamic vinegar is optional for a more salad like appeal. The zesty fresh greens balance well with the pasta, cutting through the cheese for an nice contrast of fresh with cooked and cheesy with a slight bite. Try it if you haven't already, I think you'll like it.
I'm sending this over to Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita and Marie of Proud Italian Cook for their second Festa Italiana 2009. Head on over and have a nosey round their table for this years edition. You'll find a link to last years event also. Lots of great recipes, ideas and blogs to discover.

Pasta con Rucola
Serves 4
  • 400 g (14oz) dried pasta, penne mezze or whatever suits you
  • Rucola, 4 handfuls, more or less
  • olive oil
  • Parmigiano 50 g approximately some for the sauce some for garnish on top
  • 50g (1.5 oz)prosciutto crudo or spek, cut into batons, and slightly sauteed, optional, or sauteed zucchini instead or not at all
Besciamella Sauce
  • 50 g (2 oz) butter (I use olive oil instead)
  • 1 Tb flour
  • 220 ml (8 oz) Milk
  • 200 g (8 0z)cheese, shredded Toma (cheddar, provolone or what ever suits you)
  • nutmeg, a few fresh grates or 1/4 tsp or less of dried
Make your besciamella sauce by melting your butter in a sauce pan.
Sprinkle your flour on top, whisk till smooth and cook till bubbly.
Whisk in the milk and let simmer til it thickens slightly.
Add shredded cheese. You might want to add some parmigiano also
Add your nutmeg.
Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Cook until the cheese is melted over a low heat. Set aside.

Saute prosciutto crudo if desired.

Cook pasta in salted water till al dente.

Toss the pasta together with the cheese sauce and prosciutto.
Serve in individual plates.
Garnish with a handful of rucola on top.
Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano
A pinch of salt and pepper
Drizzle with olive oil and eat while warm.

03 March 2009

Coffee on my mind

It may be March, but the weather is damp and bone chilling. Naturally, a good remedy that comes to my mind is coffee.
One of my abiding pleasures in the realm of gastronomy is great fresh roasted coffee. I was a late comer to the world of coffee drinking, not really getting the taste for it until I entered the late nights of university and the need for something to keep awake during those sleep inducing 8 am agriculture classes, whose sheer dullness had my head heading for the table. I found a friendly cafe on main street and soon became a regular and eventually worked there for my friends making their pastries and learning to make a proper cappuccino to boot.

Those were the beginnings for me of my journey into the very intriguing world of cafe culture with the main item on the menu being coffee arriving from it's many exotic locations of one of my other great loves and that would be mountains. But I digress. Fast forward to my life now here Europe where the cafe culture thrives and I love the variety of cafes that you find everywhere. I also love the fact that cafes are bars here and have an entirely different connotation than a bar say in America, where it is assumed you will be drinking alcoholic beverages and there fore is an adult place. Here bar is synonymous for cafe and it means anything to drink ht cold, alcoholic or not and suitable for the whole family. I love that a lot.
In our big town of Pinerolo, which sits at the mouth of our valley, has a population of about 35,000, there are over 160 cafe/bar licenses. A rather impressive number indeed. Plenty of neighborhood bars to hang out or meet up for a quick cuppa espresso or a "cin cin" Cinzano with friends. we have our favorite haunts when we find ourselves out and about on errands in Pinerolo or for our market day with or without guests.

One of our favorite stops is when we are off to Torino by bus or train or we need supplies for the cafe culture at our house and that would be a stop at Caffe della Stazione (Caffeteria del Chiosco) in Pinerolo.
Just like the name indicates, it is located just across the street from the train/bus station and is a welcome stop before or after your journey.
From Pinerolo Places
If you are looking for a fabulous cup of fresh roasted cup of coffee, this is the place.
The bar is a bit of a fixture in Pinerolo. It's been sitting across the street from the train station, at the very least, since the 2nd world war. Alessandro started the Peccati di Caffé business to feature and expand distribution of his fresh roasted "Difinello Coffee" side of his business that he began in 2006 and hasn't looked back. We've been regular customers serving their beans to our guests in the traditional Italian espresso and cappuccino or the longer version of French Press style coffee, to appreciative comments. Alessandro is often out delivering the beans, while his wife Michela, along with their staff serve up their fresh roasted brew in this historic cafe located just across the street from the Pinerolo train station. They also serve up fresh pannini and pastries with those coffees to the many travelers heading out and returning home, day after day. They also have a nice selection of Italian wines that you can sample it by the glass and sit out on the patio in the summer and enjoy the people watching from this well situated spot. If you arrive early you will find Alessandro's parents making the cappuccini and espressos just like the old days when they were running the bar. Now they do the early shift and let their kids get their grand kids off to school in the mornings. Keeps them still with their fingers on the pulse of Pinerolo.
You can find this cafe open all year round, daily from 6:00 am till 21:30, during the winter and 6:00-23:00, summers, excluding Sunday when they have a family day off. Do stop in have a cup and take some beans home. You'll be glad you did.

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