22 March 2011

Pinerolo's Gem-a Year Round Market

I'll admit it, I love markets, adore them.  
There I've said it, in case you didn't know.
What's not to love? 

 Friendly vendors....

colorful in fact 

and that's not even referring to the produce.
rainbow of cauliflower
or the colorful shoppers.
Fabrizio getting friendly with the cabbage and shoppers
It is always a delight to go to the local markets here in Italy. I have sought out markets over the years wherever I have lived, for the food, the bargains and the entertainment value of seeing what's on offer. Just a nosey around the stalls to see what's new and what looks good.  The people watching is always interesting too. I am so appreciative of the farmers and vendors efforts as our alpine garden is still covered by a thick blanket of snow making greens from our garden still a dream away.  Pinerolo has a long tradition of being a market town. 
Always a wonderful varied selection of salad greens
Leaf lettuce, Radicchio, Escarole,
The year round outdoor market that doubles as a parking lot has been held in the same location in the center of town for over 1,000 years, even as the surroundings have changed over the years. The large market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays without fail, unless however those days fall on a holiday and then is held the day before. Italians take their holidays very seriously, just in case you know didn't know that.  The "Mercato dei Produttori Agricoli" is the smaller, very local produce only market that runs 6 days a week in a smaller piazza off from the main square and has everything under the sun and more. Definitely not a tourist market, but tourists love it for its atmosphere, energy, and rubber necking potential. Naturally, Pinerolo itself has many enticing shops that make it difficult to get away without a swift kick to your wallet if you are unable to resist the siren sound of the various specialty shops. The historic old town center has a pleasant atmosphere to wile away a few hours in the cafes or restaurants, indulging in the pastries, chocolates or gelato with your coffee. 
Cafe Ferraud cappuccino and award winning pastries
We are so lucky to have this market year round and people with green houses and the wear withal to work the land even in the bleak mid winter. I have shopped at times when in spite of their most valiant efforts the produce has frozen at the stall and their hands and cheeks are red to the point of turning blue, and still, there they are stoic and usually a friendly word even when it would pretty hard for most of us to suffer through that kind of cold or rain without some serious grumbling. I really do admire them. It's not an easy life. Most of them have come to this life through their families, a few  through conscious choice. Many have been bringing their wares to this very market for over 50 years or so. One couple who are both in their 80's, have never driven a car and bring their goods by bicycle, one with a trailer stacked to the sky sometimes. 
Reliable transportation
  If you have ever visited and stayed with us in our Bella Baita B&B, it usually doesn't take long before the conversation will include the Pinerolo market. Aside from all reasons I have mentioned and the fact that buying locally you are putting money directly into the hands of people that are working hard for those  €, I just plain admire these people and their determination and hard work. To have the fortitude to do the back breaking labor in the fields and greenhouses, they then load it all up and drag it to market and back again, some of them 6 days a week, no matter the weather. They stand when it is hand numbingly cold or drippingly miserable to sell their food because perishable goods don't wait for the weather to improve. The show must go on and we love to partake of this time honored ritual. We look forward to introducing you to this gem of a market with it's many facets and faces, our friends.
Some of our hard working Pinerolo market friends

17 March 2011

Italian Unification marks 150 years today..Celebrate with Tagliatelle Tricolore

Viva l'Italia! 
Tri colore pasta
The party started Wednesday night with a nostalgic and patriotic musical extravaganza on television and in all three of the former and current capitals of Italy, Torino, Florence and Rome. Fireworks  for the grand finale, which for some was enjoyed in the steady drip of rain, but from the looks of it the piazzas were full to over flowing everywhere and a sense of unity pervaded, even if it might only be for a fleeting moment. 150 years, not all that long for a country with thousands of years of history, brought together by a desire for a common language and freedom from foreign rule that exploited them without understanding them. Unification came and still 150 years later most Italians usually identify themselves first from their region and it's culinary traditions, secondly as Italians with a broader alliance.
It is a time to celebrate when perhaps not everyone feels like celebrating, for the oh so many reasons too easy to enumerate. It's turbulent uncertain times in the world and here is no different. Italians have as many challenges that separates as opposed to uniting. United they are however, in spite of their differences, they all love their homeland with fierce pride and sometimes with idealistic longing for a grander day. I think most countries and people are feeling the same these days. So let us celebrate our common ground and put aside our differences. For me and I think most Italians as well, the best way to do that is to share a meal with drink and animated conversation. It's the balm that unites and gives us the strength to debate, laugh and love.
mixed pasta 
This home made three colored tagliatelle recipe was put forward by Alessandra Spisni, a frequent guest on a popular daytime cooking show in honor of the World Cup football matches last year. She hails from the Bologna region whose rule of thumb for hand rolled pasta is for every one hundred grams of flour, you add one egg and after mixing, roll.  I adapt this recipe to use the pasta machine by substituting some of the plain flour with a some semola or durum flour to give the pasta a bit more tooth. I have given her original recipe and not made the substitutions for the metric measurements, as they can vary so greatly from cook to cook. For me, 1 c flour =150g, no matter what converters usually say (usually 100g = 1c, but for me it taint so) Be that as it may, if you find your dough too dry, wet your hands and soften it up and conversely it it;s too wet, add more flour. You dough should be pliable and firm earlobe texture.  This pasta  will go with just about any of your favorite sauces. You want to use a clearer sauce for the colors to show through though. The sauce I have given below is a typical light handed coating for the pasta's colors and subtle flavors to shine through. Many of our guests tell us that they are surprised at the lack of sauce on pasta here in Italy. Italians like there to be a balance of sauce to pasta so that all the flavors shine through. You, however may find this to be a bit on the dry side for your taste, so you could add some chicken stock or light cream for a saucier version. It's also not quite full on zucchini flowers season, so feel free to substitute enough julienned zucchini  or fresh artichokes slices to make a great tasting colorful pasta, sure to brighten anyones day.
Buon appetito and  Viva l'Italia!!
Three color pasta in a light cream sauce
Tagliatelle Tricolore
Serves : a bunch of hungry people 15 or so

For the pasta:
500g flour, plain/all purpose
5 eggs, room temperature
2 t tomato paste

500g flour, plain/all purpose
5 eggs, room temperature

500g flour, plain. all purpose
4 eggs room temperature
100g spinach, cooked, liquid squeezed out

Simple light sauce

2 shallots, diced
20 zucchini flowers, large ones roughed chopped More if yours are the smaller type
or 3 (or so)good sized zucchini shredded into about 1 1/2-2" thin, thin strips, julienne
Parsley, chopped, a big handful
Olive oil to saute
Parmesan, grated, to taste, figure about 100g/ 1/2 c or so

2 T butter

Salt and Pepper
Mixed plain, spinach and tomato pasta

For the Pasta
I start with the white, by placing the flour in a bowl.
Make a well in the middle and crack your eggs into the middle.
Whisk the eggs with a fork, whisk or our fingers in a circular motion till the yolks and whites begin to emulsify. Gradually bring in  the flour little by little until you get a shaggy mass of dough.
Dump the dough on to a generously floured wooden board or table.
Begin to knead your dough until you reach a smooth pliable dough, adjusting your flour or adding a bit of water by wetting your hands, if needed.
Cover your dough with a plastic bag or film when the dough is smooth and set aside. This allows the dough to relax, usually about 15 minutes, which will be about the time  it will take you to get the other doughs finished.
Important to keep the doughs covered so they don't dry on you making it more difficult to roll out.

Repeat the process for the other two colored varieties.
Purists will mix the chopped spinach and tomato paste respectively directly in to the well with the eggs.
I like to use a small mini food processor attachment, that fits on my hand emulsion mixer, to blend a couple of the eggs with the spinach and later the tomato paste to get a smoother green and red mixture.
I find especially with the spinach, that it makes for a less ragged speckling of the dough, but it's entirely up to you whether you feel like dirtying another utensil.
Roll out your dough till thin enough to make nice rustic pasta. (1/4mm/ 1/8"or thinner)
By hand you will get approximately a 90cm x 60cm (30"x 24") rectangle.
You can roll each dough in two batches for more manageability, as it is a very large rectangle.
If using a pasta machine, divide dough into at least six sections and roll each dough section out to the next to the last setting.
Let the dough strips dry for about 15 minutes before cutting in to the tagliatelle shape.
It will be the wider setting on the cutter that comes with your machine.
Let the tagliatelle air dry 15 minutes before cooking to insure that the strands don't stick together.
You can hang them on a broom handle suspended between two chairs.  If you don't want to make the full batch, you can dry part of the pasta over night for a later date.
 If you live in a dry climate, the pasta will stay well indefinitely. If you live in a humid climate, don't leave it too long before using. Store in an air tight container when thoroughly dry.
The unrolled dough also freezes well for rolling out at a later date.  Roughly 100g of pasta for a servering per person, depending on your appetites and if there are other courses to the meal.
Get your salted water boiling.  Fresh pasta only takes a few minutes to cook. You will probably need to cook this large amount of pasta in several batches.
Mix your three colors of pasta when cooking so your colors are mixed when adding to the sauce.
Make sure you have a large pot of water boiling and  fish out the pasta on each batch adding it to the sauce pan, so you don't need to bring a second batch of water to a boil.
Male zucchini flowers
For the sauce
Have all of your ingredients ready and start the sauce when you are ready to drop the pasta in the water. 
Saute the chopped shallots in a generous amount of olive oil in a large saute pan with tall sides.
As the shallots start to soften, add  the chopped zucchini flowers. Saute till wilted. Add the parsley. If you want a saucier pasta add about a cup of chicken stock at this point. Bring to boil and add the butter. When the butter has melted you are ready for the pasta. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce in the sauce pan. Add the parmesan, stirring and shaking the pan to combine and coat the pasta. adjust your salt and pepper to taste. Seve immediately serving extra parmesan on the side.
Feel free to substitute your favorite sauce as well.
Viva l'Italia
Fabrizio serving up tricolore pasta
Going, going.....

03 March 2011

Strozzapreti Broccoli e Taleggio

Yesterday I had some broccoli that called my name out as I passed it on my way to bake some bread. It persuasively let me know that if I didn't cook it immediately it was going to go all soft on me and it's fresh solid firmness would be lost. I saw this recipe done on one of the local daily cooking shows, La Prova del Cuoco and had been wanting to try it. I rose to the occasion and whipped out some simple pasta to go along with the insistent broccoli. I married up the two of them with some soft stracchino cheese and lunch was done in nothing flat. 

The hand rolled pasta I made is called Strozzaptreti and hails from the Emilia-Romagna region. Strozzapreti or priest stranglers? Humm, intriguing name for a pasta shape indeed. There are a few theories about how this pasta received its name and all seem to be on the anti clerical theme. According to Wikipedia, one story goes that the gluttonous priests ate too quickly and choked on the pasta. Another purports that the farmer's wives would make Strozzapreti for the clergy in partial payment for their land rents, infuriating the farmers so, that they wished they would choke on the pasta. Either way, it seems the priests were none too revered. Lucky for us these are easy to make, as you don't need to be too fussed about their shape as they are rustic and hearty. They seem to disappear quickly when paired with the broccoli and cheese and their lumpy character goes well with sturdy broccoli. The dough is water and flour rubbed together to form medium rolled strands that are cooked with the broccoli and finished off with the cheese. I didn't have taleggio, which is a mild soft cheese that melts easily. I used another even milder cheese, stracchino that I think next time I would add some Parmesan and or gorgonzola to kick up the flavor profile just a bit. Either way, I didn't use as much of the cheese as called for as I wanted the broccoli to shine through and I think that was just about right for me. You be the judge for your taste buds. If you are not of a mind to make pasta, use a fresh or dry pasta of your choice. Whatever you do, make sure to give it a go for a simple and satisfying dish that's sure to please.

Strozzapreti Broccoli e Taleggio

(Priest Stranglers with Broccoli and cheese)

4-5 servings


For the pasta:
  • 400g/ 4c/14oz flour, all purpose
  • 200g/ 3/4c/ 7 oz, cool water
For the rest:
  • 1 shallot, diced or 1/2 red onion if you don't have a shallot,
  • 500g/ 1# broccoli, peel stems and cut into 2cm/1 in pieces. I sliced some of the larger florets in half
  • 200g/ 7oz, Taleggio, small cubes or any soft cheese of your preference. I used stacchino. Next time I would add a little gorgonzola cheese
  • 50g/ 1/4c Parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Pepper


Mix the water and flour and pull together to make a soft but firm dough. Knead a few minutes till smooth and pliable, dusting generously with flour if needed. Cover in a bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough relax for 15 minutes. The rest gives the flour time to absorb the water properly.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a rectangle to a thickness of about 3mm/1/4 in.
Cut the dough into long strips across the shorter end. 
Take each strip and rub the lengths of dough together between your palms in a quick rolling motion to get a rolled length that you pinch off into comfortable lengths. Continue till you finish all the dough. I cut a few strips at a time so they don't dry out too much while I am rubbing them into strips. Sprinkled or flour generously a wooden board or trays and lay your pasta out in a single layer. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta as well, to keep them form sticking together. Set aside while you finish the rest of the dish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
You can prep your vegetables and cheese now.
Begin to heat a large sauce pan or skillet with tall sides.
Add a bit of olive oil and your shallot or onion and let it gently cook.
Once your pot is at a rolling boil, drop the broccoli and cook until the broccoli is bright green and tender but still firm. That is how I like it. You can cook it further to your taste, if you like.
I removed the broccoli because I didn't want to over cook it and added it to the olive oil and onion.
Other wise add the pasta to the broccoli and cook until the pasta is cooked al dente. The timing will depend on how thick your strips are. Usually fresh pasta only takes a few minutes. Do test a thick piece as it can be quite doughy if under cooked.
Add your drained pasta ad broccoli to the pan with the shallot.
Add your soft cheese and mix to blend and melt the soft cheese. Adjust your seasoning and turn your heat on or off depending ont if the cheese is melting or not.
Serve immediately, stirring in the parmesan at the last moment or sprinkling it over the top when served. A grind of fresh black pepper is a nice finishing touch as well.

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