19 October 2011

Sausages in a Savoy Cabbage Blanket

As the temperatures cool and our namesake Savoy cabbage begins to be found in the markets, I find that I enjoy making this simple hearty dish frequently. Piedmont Italy is what used to be the kingdom of or House of Savoy. The Haute Savoie or upper Savoie is just over the alps behind us in France and as I always like to say, the borders in Europe have been very fluid over they years, changing with the next conqueror. I'm not sure how exactly this cabbage came to get it's name, but I feel pretty confident that because it flourishes here, that is one of the reasons why it is called as such. I read that cabbage
Back to the dish of the day, Salsicia in Camicia, which literally translates as "sausage in a shirt" and rhymes in Italian, but I couldn't resist calling it Sausage in a Savoy Cabbage Blanket for the play on the pigs in a blanket reference. Anyway, our cousin Paolo came over for lunch the other day and I made Salsicia in Camicia. He declared my lunch to be better than any of the trattorias that he frequents. Since  he's a single guy and does eat out a lot, I took it for high praise. Mille grazie Paolo. He also liked my savoy cabbage simple slaw as an antipasto, never mind that it is really an American style slaw that I grew up on and still love to this day. (Don't call it cole slaw! My mom made more of a sweet and vinegary style that mine is a take off on and although I might put a couple of tablespoons of mayo in, but it definitely is not cole slaw. That kind of slaw makes me have an involuntary reflex that isn't all that pleasant).  
Mountain Savoy cabbage from our garden They normally are quite a bit larger
Yes, back to savoy cabbage, which here it is called cavolo verza.  I really love this cabbage as it is milder and somewhat lighter in body. I love red and regular cabbage or what is called cappuccio cavolo as well, but find my heart quickens when we're having Savoy cabbage. It's particularly loved here in the mountains as it is a cold loving plant and we generally have them in the garden all winter long snugged under the blanket of snow. My in laws keep them to have the outer greens for the chickens to peck at in the winter and for the rest of us to have a good peck at as well. Apparently everyone loves a bit of greens now and then. I think you'll find this a satisfying dish to add to your rotation of cabbage dishes as we move into full cabbage season. You can find another local Savoy cabbage soup here that I have shared before. 

Salsicia in Camicia with smashed potatoes
Salsicia in Camicia
Sausages or Cotechino in a Savoy Cabbage Blanket 
Serves 6

6 sausages, cotechino or spicy, garlicky Italian type or whatever ones you like
6 large whole Savoy cabbage leaves, you can use regular ones, but Savoy are our native favorite
1 medium onion diced
2 carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, diced

1-2 T fennel seeds, less if you prefer a more subtle fennel flavor
2 bay leaves
1 T thyme, fresh or a few sprigs, less if using dry thyme as it is more concentrated

2 garlic cloves
white wine, hefty splash
8 tomatoes, San Marzano or Roma style diced or a can of diced tomatoes

olive oil
Salt and  Pepper to taste, a little red pepper if you like

Lay your cabbage leaves flat and make a 1/2 inch/ 2 cm slice up the middle of the cabbage main rib from the base on each the leaves. This will help when you roll them up.
Lay one sausage on each of the leaves at the base.
Starting from the thick end of the cabbage leaf, roll the sausage up, folding the two outer edges of the leaf in towards the middle as you roll it up to the wide end of the cabbage. This is just like rolling egg rolls or burritos.
Secure the loose end with a toothpick or short wooden skewer and set aside.
Place a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a deep sided saute pan.
Add your diced onion, carrots, and celery and saute till the vegetables start to soften.
Add the thyme, bay leaves and fennel seeds.
Cook a few minutes more then add garlic.
Add the the sausage rolls and sauté till the cabbage has softened, turn and continue until the rolls begin to pick up some color on all sides.
Add a good glug of white wine, picking up any bits that might be sticking to the bottom of the pan and continue to cook until the wine has almost disappeared.
Add the diced tomatoes and a half cup of water or stock if  you have it to make a soupy mix.
Cover and let simmer about 20 minutes, or until you think your sausages are done, as the timing will vary due to the size of your sausages.
Taste and adjust your seasonings.

We serve them with mashed potatoes. I like to simply mash the potatoes with a hand smasher, some roasted garlic if I have it, olive oil and chicken stock, which I usually don't have, so I merely use the potato water to thin out a bit. Simple, but the sauce is so flavorful, you probably won't miss the extra richness of  the butter and cream/milk, but feel free to make then however you like.
You could also serve with a simple side of rice or cooked noodles as well. Very tasty and versatile.

15 October 2011

Trails Ho!

When the weather is so kind to allow us to attempt to finish all of our never ending lists of "to dos" around here, it's nice when we have time to slip in an outing to not only to check out the neighborhood, but to maintain some of our paths, making it easier for our guests and the many mushroom seekers that tramp around in our woods. Fabrizio and I made such an excursion the other day. It was a beautiful autumn day that just begged us to get out and enjoy it and we were happy to oblige.
Fabrizio and I started our association for sustainable mountain tourism, T.E.M. (currently in Italian only, but due for a revamp and translation in the near future), a number years back in order to support our region, our mountains, its traditions, cuisine and people. We weren't exactly sure what all that would entail, but it has been and continues to be a delightful pleasure to discover the myriad of paths it has taken us on and all the interesting people we continue to meet along the way with various twists and turns on the path that sustainable tourism guides us.
Fabrizio clearing downed logs on a trail
One such twist began with a meeting in Turin that we attended with the president of our local chapter of C.A.I.'s (Club Alpino Italiano), Luigi Barus. CAI is Italy's national alpinist organization dedicated to preserving and maintaining the mountains for all to enjoy now and in the future as well as bringing people together to reach that goal.

At this meeting a local project was born as we learned there was a desire for the region to map out our local trails with GPS markings to not only bring hiking in the mountains to a new level of modernity, and possibly insuring people will find their way as they explore our Cottian alps, and will help preserve and maintain our trails so that many may enjoy them for years to come.

Colle del Besso

That's where Silvano Damiano, a member of Pinasca's chapter of CAI, came up from the bottom of our road in Pinasca and brought along some high tech, fancy smancy, gear to put our trails on GPS coordinates. He has worked diligently, along with my husband, Fabrizio, his two children when they weren't busy, and even a few of our guests, to walk our various neighborhood paths this summer, clearing fallen trees as well as brush and branches that obscure the path, painting red and white stripes to help mark the way and documenting the paths with photos and GPS coordinates. Woowee, we have arrived!
Fabrizio and I worked on one of the paths on our outing and it was such a pleasure to cut and move logs that have blocked the path for a long time, fall away with some concentrated effort. I also helped with the red and white markings, painting old and some new markings to help you feel confident that you are indeed on a proper path and not a game or mushroom hunter's trail that eventually will disappear almost as quickly as it began, leaving one either scratching one's head or wandering aimlessly or backtracking.

Nice to know that we're making our woods a little more accessible one fallen tree and paint stripe at a time. Today Fabrizio and a group of CAI members are out working on yet more trails making haste to get as much done before the snow flies. There will be more trails to work on and when we have guests visiting that have an interest and the timing is right, we will bring you along for the experience and to be a part of the effort in our small part of the alps. And we are grateful for your help.

Trail Crew August 2011                                                                                                                                                                                      Valentina, Silvano, Matteo, our Dutch guests, Anna and Ron and Fabrizio

06 October 2011

Torta di Pere or Pear Cake

The pears are so wonderful this time of the year as they begin to grow too heavy for the tree that bears them and too wonderful not to make everything you can out of them. One of my favorite simple seasonal cakes that can be endlessly varied and is packed with these lusty teardrop shaped globes consists of pears and not a whole lot else. Apple cakes are made in the same fashion here as well and I just might try one with a combination of the two one of these days. As it is the normal mode here to not add too many ingredients to complicate or overshadow the star of most dishes, you will find little or no spices added to keep the quality and flavor-fullness of the pears front and center. I love making it this way and find that the cake seems to only improve on the second day as they flavors have time to come together and sing out. Having said that, the original recipe adapted from Marcella Hazan also calls for whole cloves to be poked into the batter just before popping it into the oven for a nice burst of spiciness permeating throughout the cake.  This part of Italy loves to add cloves to a wide range of dishes from  cakes to red sauces, so I do like to add this particular spice in. I think this cake would shine with the addition of ginger, dried or candied, as well as the usual suspects of cinnamon and nutmeg, although the simplicity of the cake really brings the flavor of the pears front and center. As always with any dish, the quality of the pears is going to be what makes or breaks your cake. I have used what we call here abate that is a soft succulent variety that doesn't last long so you need to use it before it gets too soft. Other varieties that are firmer work well also. Just make sure your pears are flavorful and you really can't go wrong. This dense rustic cake seems to improve as it sits and will be great for at least 2 days on your table at room temperature as long as it isn't too warm, otherwise into your fridge it goes, but best at room temperature or slightly warm.

Rustic Pear Cake
Torta di Pere
Serves 6-8
22cm/9" cake pan with removable sides if possible


28-58g/ 2-4T butter for the pan and dotting around the tart, about 
45g/ 1 1/2 oz bread crumbs
2 eggs
225g/ 8oz caster sugar, or super fine sugar
60ml/ 4T milk
170g/ 6oz flour, plain
900g/2 lbs fresh pears, anjou, bosc, conferenza, williams, abate
1 dozen whole cloves, optional but very delicious

*If you are feeling like some spice or your pears aren't so flavorful 
you might find these usual suspects a nice addition
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg


  • Preheat your oven to 190*C/375*F/gas mark 5
  • Prepare your pan by buttering the bottom and sides of your pan and generously dust all with dry bread crumbs. Shake out any excess crumbs.
  • Peel your pears, cut in half lengthwise and remove the core, seeds and stringy bit down the length. Slice into thin slices across the width of the pear and set aside. (My pears were quite ripe in this cake in the pictures, so I cut them a little thicker.)
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg till smooth, then add the milk and continue whisking.
  • Add the flour and stir or lightly whisk just until fully combined.
  • Add the sliced pears and mix just till fully combined.
  • Pour into your prepared pan.
  • Smooth top and dot a few pieces of butter round the top and press firmly int the batter. 
  • Press your whole cloves into the top also if using them. I arranged mine decoratively in a circle in the middle of the cake and left them sticking up so people would find them before biting unknowingly into them. 
  • Bake in the middle of your oven for approximately 50 minutes.
  • Cool to warm before serving and naturally a dollop of whipped cream or gelato isn't a bad idea. 

03 October 2011

Pinerolo's "Man in the Iron Mask" festival

Iron masked Prisoner and Musketeer guards
Another year, another mysterious masked man is brought to Pinerolo, escorted by D'Artagnan and his fellow musketeers from the island of St Marguerite( in the bay of Cannes) in our annual reenactment of this documented but unsolved mystery. The legend, brought to light by the French writer Voltaire, is of a richly robed man in an iron mask that was held in several prisons before ending up in the Bastille, where he ultimately died and was buried in 1703.
This much loved mystery not only lives on and continues to intrigue, it has it's own enactment and celebration in Pinerolo. This year festival marks Pinerolo's 13th edition of the arrival of Pinerolo's most infamous and also documented masked prisoner. He arrived in Pinerolo prison August 24, 1669 where  he was kept for 11 years. There are many theories and versions of the story and in actuality it is difficult to know if any of them are one mans story or the synthesis of several with a strong sprinkling of legend and embellishment along the way. There was, however, a man in a mask who arrived in Pinerolo and the story lives on every year the first weekend in October with pageantry, historical costumes, music, games, and lots of speculation as to the identity of the man portraying the man in the iron mask this year. 
The Iron masked prisoner and his confessor

The commemoration opens on Saturday night with the arrival of the prisoner with this year's edition featuring several other famous Pinerolo prisoners from this era to add to the spectacle and speculation. I thought it added another nice element of drama as the prisoners made a dash for freedom before being put behind bars. Every year there is a bit of tweaking this event with an effort to accurately portray the time period in costume and village life. 
Other infamous Pinerolo prisoners
On Sunday the town comes alive with another round of dancing, flag waving, colorful costumed lords and ladies promenading around town, with various types of entertainment and wares to sample or purchase. Then the parading of the prisoners through the streets before unmasking this years celebrity to the crowd of 5,000 or so onlookers. It's a festive and interesting town performance, especially if the weather is cooperative as it was this year, that you should make plans to attend one day.  There are some excellent videos of the festivities on the Festivals website here. We have a video posted here.
I'll leave you with some highlights of the festival.

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