28 October 2009

Vendemmia in Val Chisone

I'm not quite ready to leave the autumn behind just yet, even though old man winter keeps blowing his frosty breath around to chill the bone and make you work even faster to get all of those autumn projects done before winter begins in earnest.
Our local vendemmia, or grape harvest, was well under way in September finishing up recently in October. It's a labor of love as the grapes are hand harvested and only picked when deemed to be at their peak. The wine growers experience helps them determine the best time for harvest, visually judging the color for ripeness and taste for sweetness. They also use an optical instrument called a refractometer, that measures the amount of sugar in the grapes supporting or not, their opinions of when would be the prime time to harvest. Naturally, the position of the vineyard and weather conditions all play their part in the drawn out maturation and harvesting process. The weather is critical in determining the harvest and is always a great source of speculation.

Recently we had the pleasure of introducing long time American educational filmmakers,
Sid and Mary Lee Nolan, to our Chisone valley.  They were in our area filming for their upcoming video of Italian wine regions. Naturally, we took them to visit the Coutandin family winemakers, whose Pomaretto vineyard we gaze upon from  our balcony. Their impressively steep vineyards are part of our "Bella Baita View" at the  base of of the French border skyline and mouth of the Germansca valley. Their terraced vines are so steep that they have installed a train to help them with harvesting and maintaining the vineyard. Below you see Daniele Coutandin, demonstrating the use of it for the camera.
Although the Coutandin operation is relatively small, Ramie wine has big bold flavors. They have gone from just over 800 bottles per year to 3,000 bottles last year.  Our alpine wines reflect the soil and environmental weather that can offer some insight into life in the Cottian alps. Back in January we were up in the vineyard as it was a beautiful mild day offering up the promise of spring and encountered some folks  working on the vines. Nice to see the full progression throughout the year.
This family winery mainly produces a rare DOC wine called Ramie, which is a blend of several local varietals. Their Ramie is quite smooth and fruity and goes down well with many of our local specialties, rabbit and polenta comes to mind. You might want to visit our part of the world and try it some time. We're always happy to point in any number of interesting directions.

We also made a a small tour up the valley to the imposing Fenestrelle Fortress and as well as some of our favorite haunts.
Later in the day, we also made a visit to the Dora Renato Cantina, who produce the other DOC appellation of our neighborhood, Doux d/Henry. This is light refreshing rose´ style wine, favored locally here and  in southern France. They produce a range of delicious local varietals also. A couple of other posts about them are here and here.

We rounded out the day tour with the unmasking of the 2009 edition of Pinerolo's Maschera di Ferro,
also know as the "Man in the Iron Mask" festival.  And who was that you ask? Well, you'll just have to wait until I can get a post up of this years festival. It is a wonderful event so, stay tuned.

23 October 2009

Torino's Toro

Recently I've been making a few trips to our provincial capital of Torino or Turin, the dialect name which most visitors know it by.  This stylie bull is the symbol of Torino and found adorning all manner of things. I found this interesting explanation of the origins of Torino's name on one of the city's site.

Turin: According to the legend, it was the Egyptian prince Phaethon to found the city of Taurina (around 1523 b.C., even earlier than Troy) where the Po meets the Dora, in honour of Api, an egyptian god having the features of a bull. Taurines, instead, a population having celtic-ligurian ancestors, established themselves here during the III century b.C. in a village called Taurasia, deriving from the indigenous word tauro, meaning mountain, transformed later into the symbol of a bull by analogy. Between 29 and 28 b.C. the Romans founded here the colony of Julia Augusta Taurinorum, subsequently shortened to Taurinorum, in order to indicate where the Taurines lived. This name was ultimately simplified to Taurinos, and, finally, to Turin. 

Torino never fails to offer up some interesting detail that I didn't know or haven''t seen before and this time was no exception. I've walked around Piazza San Carlo many a time and strolled past the historic and over the top, Torino Cafe without fully noticing the brass bull inlaid in the stone at the entrance to this cafe.

According to Fabrizio the thing to do is step on the brass b_ _ _ _ of this mighty beast for a bit of luck, at least that's what legend has it. It doesn't really surprise me as there is a wild boar sculpture in one of the piazze in Florence who has a similar legend and is quite shiny form all the rubbing. The same goes for the right breast of the Julliette statue in Verona as well. So now when you're doing the passeggiata around Torino on the Kings walk under the covered porticos and you come upon a brass bull, you'll know what to do.

16 October 2009

Apple Chestnut Bread for World Bread Day 2009 -Yes we Bake

One my greatest pleasures in life is baking bread. I love the feeling of concocting a gruel from the simplest of ingredients flour, water, salt and yeast to create such a variety of sustaining foods, bread, our daily bread. For many years I made bread at work and at home only inconsistently committed to bread making, as I couldn't quite get the balance between making and consuming quite right. Fast forward to life here in the Italian alps and now we rely on my passion for bread to not only nourish and sustain us as my husband is a bread- aholic and I have an enthusiastic crowd of bread eaters built in with our B&B business, so I do so enjoy keeping up with all of their appetites. I enjoy participating in World Bread Day 2009- Yes we Bake. It is deeply satisfying to my soul.
This time of year I like to vary the ingredients to what is in season and so what a better combination than apples and chestnuts. The chestnuts are just starting to come down in our neighborhood and making their appearance in the market and naturally the supply of chestnut flour is replenished and apples abound everywhere you look. It won't be long before we have our annual apple festival in Cavour celebrating the roughly 35 varieties of local apples. The festival is a wonderful extravaganza of all sorts of treat and a great place to get a bargain on your favorite apples and try a few unfamiliar ones as well.

Anyway, here a recipe for this seasons favorite that I think I'll be make a few more times as I love the combination of the sweet nutty chestnuts with the tartness of the green cooking apples that I used. Here one of my favorite varieties to bake with is ranette, of course back in the US I used to like macintosh, fuji, and granny smith , but there are som many to use. Feel free to use your favorite variety keeping in mind to use a baking variety, so that it will hold it's texture when baking.  The sweeter eating apple varieties will generally turn to mush. I used chestnut flour, and I think next time I might add some chestnut pieces for another added dimension to this bread. it is a soft chewy texture that toasts us nicely and lends  itself to savory cheese spread for a tasty lunch or antipasti addition. Enjoy the endless possibilities.
I almost forgot to add that you should go over to Zorra's of 1x Umruhen Bitte blog who hosts this event as well as a monthly baking event. She'll be rounding up the offerings around October 25th.

Pane con Mele e farina di Castagne  / Chestnut Apple Bread

Yeilds 2 large oblong loaves

 900 g (2lb/9 c ) bread flour , might need more if the dough is too sticky to handle
100 g  (1 c) chestnut flour
12 g (2 tsp) yeast, instant dry
10 g (2 tsp) salt
150 g ( 1/2-2/3 c) poolish/ biga*
30 g (2T) olive oil or saffron or corn
600-650g (2 1/2 c) water, warmish water if you want to make this within a few hours
amount varies depending on if you use the biga or not
250 g (9oz or 1 1/2 c) tart apples, diced small to medium, not too small, so they don't  disappear

* I use my natural yeast starter (that fluctuates between a poolish and a biga)that I always have in the refrigerator and the consistency and strength of it can vary, due to many factors (mainly me) so my ingredients  are often times adjusted to the current conditions.
If you don't have any type of sour dough starter then you can make your own poolish by the very simple method of making it a day before you start this bread.

Poolish method
100 g (1 c) flour
118 g (1/2 c)water, room temperature
1/4 tsp  yeast, instant dry

Mix together in a roomy bowl, cover and let set at room temperture for 3-4 hours.
Refrigerate over night and pull out and take the chill off of it for an hour before using.


  • Weigh out and combine your dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, either by hand or for a stand mixer
  • Add your oil, biga and water and mix by hand till completely incorporated. Knead until you reach a smooth pliable ball. 
  • Flatten your dough out and add the apple pieces.
  • Stretch and fold the dough over the apples in a few places and begin to work the pieces in whilst gently kneading the dough again.
  • The dough may break up, but continue to knead the dough and you should find that it will come back together  and become smooth and pliable again with the apple pieces distributed throughout the dough.
  • Place your dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a damp towel or a plastic wrap.
(I use and reuse shower caps or some of the bowl covers that I tend to stick in my luggage every time I go back to the states. They work great for repeatedly for bread and pasta making.)
  • Let rise till the dough doubles in size or at least feels lighter and full of air
  • Slightly deflate and shape your dough into 2 oblong loaves (great shape for toasting)
  • Place in either oiled bread pans or baskets that have been lined with heavy muslin, dusted with flour. I put the seam up, so when I flip it out the right side is up.
  • Cover the bread with a loose fitting plastic bag and allow to rise till doubled in size* this can take up to 3-4 hours or over night depending on how you choose to finish your bread.
  • Preheat your oven to 230* C (450*F)
  • Flip your bread onto baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat
  • Slash the top with a straight edge razor blade  or very sharp knife 
  • Place a pan of hot water in the bottom of your oven
  • Spray the oven with hot water just before putting your loaf in.
  • Spray one more time in the first 10 minutes of baking
  • Reduce the heat to 200* (400*) and continue baking
  • Bake until the crust is golden and the bottom of your loaf is brown and hollow sounding
  • Approximately 40 minutes (it takes about 25 minutes in my convection oven)
  • Resist cutting it for an hour, 
  • Then enjoy with whatever strikes your fancy, apricot jam, apple butter fresh ricotta cheese with chives and garlic, sprinkled with toasted sunflower and sesame seeds, Nutella or fresh creamy chestnut honey butter.
  • The possibilities are endless....
 *I tend to go for a longer rise using cool water and letting the dough rise a few hours before shaping and keeping it in a cloth lined basket, all wrapped in a large plastic bag and left in my cool spot in an unheated room or sometimes in the refrigerator when there is room and bake it the next day after allowing it to come to room temperature. If it didn't rise enough in the refrigerato,r then I let it continue to rise the second day till it is a suitable size for baking. You can determine whether your loaf is ready to bake by pressing a finger in it and there will be a noticeable lasting impression and a feel of air and lightness to the loaf.

11 October 2009

Porcini Season

It's that time of the year again when I awaken before light to the sound of my father- in -law  lightly clomping down the stairs to go after the big game like Cinghiale, otherwise known in these parts as wild boar, whilst the steady whooming of the oh- so -serious porcino hunters make their way to their favorite part of our woods to stalk the much prized Edulis Boletus.
Yesterday, it was merely 60 cars that I counted parked along side the road as we dodged the traffic going to the market not including the Torino taxi that we see frequently at this time of year. What started out to look like a lean year for the king of mushrooms, has turned into a bonanza with all the weekend warriors that go along with.  Today we had a woman off the road in her cycling gear proceed to make her way around our yard and when asked if we could help her, she told us that she was having a closer look at all the mushrooms in our yard in case they were porcini. Surprise surprise, they were not.  We did however harvest these two pictured below, form certain parts of our garden that I hesitate to mention for fear of over zealous stalkers!

When we arrived at the market, it was quite the mushroom extravaganza. Mushrooms on almost every stall and naturally a mushroom in every pot. Ok, may not in every stall or pot, but it was a fantastic display everywhere in the market. Mostly they were porcini, but there were a smattering of other less prized varieties, of which I'm not so sure about the names, but some of them looked like the chicken of the woods variety. As I came to this stall I was surprised to see that these were from our village Pinasca, that is where we turn off when we make our way back homee up the hill. there's a good possibility that some of these mushrooms might have evne been from some of those people that park along side our road and scour the hill sides. As you can see they were pretty well picked over by the time we saw them. If you note the price is €9.50 per half kilo or just over a pound. Still a little pricey, but much cheaper than last week, but nothing like the price of when you find them yourself.

Our friends had the good fortune to find some fantastic specimens on their hike today, up to Cucetto for the views.  Nice schroomy finds, pictured below, huh?!
Can you guess what is on the menu tonight? No, well, it's mushroom risotto and perhaps a side of breaded sliced porcino steaks to go along with.  I made a rustic tart the other night with big slabs of porcini layered on top of tomini cheese in an olive oil crust and it was so scrumptious, that we ate it  before I could even think about getting a photo of it.  A similar recipe that you might want to try if you find yourself in a mushroom kind of mood is my" Porcini e Tomini in pasta sfoglia" recipe.
Whatever the case enjoy some woodsy treat of mushrooms any way you can, the season is upon us.
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