18 February 2012

Valdesians or Waldensens, Walking Proud and Free

Pomaretto Vadesian Temple and marchers February 17, 2012
If you have read my blog over the years you may have read about one of our most famous local historical points of notoriety, being part of the original home of the Valdesians, as they are referred to here and Waldensens elsewhere. Our Chisone valley along with the Germansca and Pellice valleys are collective referred to as the Valdesian valleys. They were purportedly to be the first Protestants arriving here from Lyon with their leader Peter Waldo, somewhere in the late 12th century.  These valleys all share a certain rugged remoteness that kept the "heretics" safe at least for many years. They have had a rough and often brutal history being persecuted for their beliefs, but found a home here that still holds them safe in the heart of these Cottian alps.You can read about their history here, although I have heard different versions and much discussions of some of this information, but as it dates back over 800 years, and they were so viciously persecuted, it stands to reason that much written history has been lost over the years and much speculation survives.
February 16th bonfire night for the Valdesians
The remains from the Pomaretto bonfire
Leaving this dark part of the history behind we find that February 17, 1848, when they were finally granted their civil rights,  a time of great celebration. To get the word out that they were free and equal citizens, they lit bonfires up and down the valleys to celebrate this momentous occasion. Today the celebration lives on with bonfires on the night of the 16 of February, followed by a procession the following morning through the valley joining up with neighboring Valdesians, accompanied by the local band, stopping along the way for refreshments featuring local festive pastries, like "bugie", which translates to lies. These are rectangular fried dough pieces that can be puffy and filled with either jam or chocolate, or long and thin and fried crispy. Both usually dusted with powdered sugar or not and eaten with abandon.
Refreshments for the Marchers
You can find my bugie recipe here.  After a bit of a breather, some refreshments and a bit of catching up with one another, the procession continues until they reach their church called a temple and all gather to worship together and commemorate this joyous day.

Catching up

Our friend Loredana
This year we had gorgeous blue skies and temperatures were quite mild for this time of the year and you could see everyone was enjoying the glorious day. I joined in and enjoyed the day as well meeting some our good friends along the way as well. Most families gather together after church for a special meal at home or out in one of the restaurants that will feature some of their favorite dishes. One menu I saw, featured Valdesian soup, and Bollito Misto. It was a beautiful day and I hope you enjoy a brief peek into one of our valley's centuries old traditions.
Young Valdesian girls
Valdesian  women marching on Liberation day

Links to my posts from other February 17ths

14 February 2012

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins for Your Honey

Nothing says loving, like something from your oven, and something made fresh from your oven will say it best. Yes, those of you from the US and of a certain age, will probably remember this as little jingle that one particular baking company used to hawk their products. It was a memorable one as I can still hear it jangling through my head. Well, I have always maintained that your own scratch recipes are tastier and more memorable than a packet or the refrigerator. This is a variation on my general "go to" muffin recipe that I endlessly vary. I am constantly aiming to make my baked goods more healthy and still be a welcome treat. To that end the results can be varied. This muffin is not overly sweet, moist. comes together easily and is delicious, even after a couple of days languishing in a covered tin. This my version for my funny valentine with whom I am celebrating our anniversary today. And because "nothing says loving, like something from my oven", here is my offering, amore mio. Tiamo tanto!
Hope you love em too.

Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Yields 10-12 medium muffins


2-3 bananas, medium, very ripe, mashed
1 egg
1/2 c (1/2 bicchiere) oil, I use light flavored olive oil, butter if you prefer
1/2 c (1/2 bicchiere)yogurt, plain 
1 c (1 bicchiere) brown sugar, I used muscovado
1 tsp vanilla if desired
pinch salt
1 c whole wheat or farro flour
1 c white flour, plain or all purpose
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 c 1/2 bicchiere) chocolate chips, I used dark chocolate mini chips
Pecans or walnuts would be a nice yet optional addition

Mash your bananas and set aside
In a roomy medium to large mixing bowl, whisk together your egg and sugar till fluffy.
Add the oil, mix
Add the yogurt and vanilla, mix
Combine separately your two flours, baking powder and salt.
Add to the wet ingredients and start to mix lightly. 
Add the chocolate chips and combine until just barely mixed.
Scoop with a ice cream scoop if you have one into pregreased muffin tins.
I have some shallow ones that I like very much for a more compact muffin disk.
Bake at 375*F (190*C) in a preheated oven for about 15  minutes, depending on the size of the muffins.
Serve warm or room temperature. 
Store extra in a air tight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, They also freeze well.

Happy Valentines Day!

05 February 2012

Nutella Bullseyes for World Nutella Day 2012

Here we are again on February 5th, at what has come to be known as World Nutella Day according to 2 bloggers, Sara and Michelle that I have come to know through their blogs and other various cyber space adventures. In their own words, "Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle from Bleeding Espresso solemnly declare Sunday, February 5th “World Nutella Day 2012″ – a day to celebrate, to get creative with, and most importantly, to EAT Nutella." You can find them on Facebook, Twitter (hashtag #nutelladayand over at the WND site all day sharing what's going on today.
This is the 6th year they have hosted this event, exhorting  one and all to indulge in what is one of Italy's most beloved treats, Nutella, in any way you see fit, but most of all enjoying it. This is my 5th year to participate. You'll find some links to my other recipes through the years at the bottom of the post. 
Nutella is a fairly sacred household staple in most Italian homes, especially if there are children still at home. It's a staple in our house and we're the only children indulging. It is quite beloved through out Europe as well with Germany being the number one consumer of Nutella. The formula varies from locations and tends to be a stiffer version as you go north and even in America as well, but here in Italy, it is a super creamy chocolate hazelnut spread suitable for spreading on all sorts of things. This year I chose to spread it between two layers of semi crispy cookie layers with the top having a heart cut out of it for a peek a boo effect that would be perfect for using for Valentine's day also. I can't imagine anyone turning away from one of these.  
Nutella has a special place in our hearts here in Piedmont as it was born here in nearby Alba. The combination of milk chocolate and hazelnut was born in Turin due to necessity. Napoleon's blockade made  chocolate supplies difficult and necessitated a  way to stretch the chocolate that the Torinese so loved. Hazelnuts were a natural addition as our region especially from the Langhe territory grew ample supplies of them. It wasn't long before this combination came to be a symbol of Torino. Nutella was born in Alba as a creamier version of the original Gianduja. It was due to shortages due to WWII and the desire to stretch  the favored treat that Nutella was born into the Ferrero family in Alba. There are many claims to the various origins of both Gianduja and Nutella but that is the general story line from my understanding. I found Wikipedia a bit lacking and not really authenticated in its various descriptions. 
Our home here in Chisone valley is a part of the vast  province of Torino and part of Piedmont,  so chocolate hazelnut combinations are an important part of our identity and traditions. That is one of the reasons I enjoy participating in  world Nutella day. I think you will enjoy my recipe for Occhie di Bui con Nutella cookies and if you want to know more about Nutella and have a few more recipes, Sara and Michelle have also put together an inexpensive and fun "Unofficial Guide to Nutella" ebook available at Amazon and you don't need a kindle to read it, just a computer. Check it out.
My recipe for my Nutella Sandwich Cookies was born out of a local cookie specialty called Occhie di Bui or Bull's Eyes. The original cookie consists of two small cookie disks, one that has a disk cut out of the center and the are sandwiched together with jam, usually apricot or cherry, with the tops dusted with powdered sugar. They  seem to give the appearance of an eye or a bullseye. I ran with that theme, making my cookie dough, which here is called a pasta frolla, a combination of ricotta and butter base and used some buckwheat flour for a more unique and wintery flavor. This recipe will work just fine using all butter and all white flour if you prefer, but I think you'll find the buckwheat is a welcome addition. The cookies are not extremely sweet if you forego the powdered sugar and I think you will find them tasty either way with a steaming strong cup of coffee or tea. Oh yes, I used a small heart cutter to cut out the center for a heartfelt treat. The cookies store well in a tin and retained their gently snap over night,  although I think over time they will soften up. 

Nutella Bullseyes or Occhio di Bue con Nutella
Makes 24 - 2 inch/ 4cm sandwiched cookies and several small hearts

1/2c (100g)butter, room temperature
2/3c (125g) sugar, I like organic raw cane sugar, but granulated is fine
1/2c (100g) ricotta
1 t vanilla
1 whole egg
1 yolk
3/4c (115g) buckwheat flour
1 1/2c (220g) white flour
2 t baking powder
pinch salt
**Nutella, enough to sandwich the layers together
I used almost half of a 400g jar of Nutella
Powdered sugar, optional if you prefer a less sweet cookie

Cream your butter together with the sugar till smooth. I mix mine with a flat whisk by hand. If using an electric mixer, don’t whip too much just till it is light and mixed well.
Add the ricotta and and vanilla. Mix well.
Add the whole egg and yolk and mix till completely incorporated.
Blend the 2 flours, baking powder and salt till all is distributed.
Combine the dry ingredients with the egg butter mixture thoroughly mixing, being careful not to handle too much.
Divide the  dough into 2 equal portions, flatten, place back into to your blow, cover and refrigerate the dough for about ½ hour. It will be easier to roll out.
Remove one disk of dough from the cold and keep the other in the fridge while you roll out the disk between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper, being careful to work as quickly as you can so the dough doesn’t become too warm and sticky. Return dough to the cold if too soft to handle.
You can also roll it out on a floured surface being careful not to pick up and add much flour into to your dough.
You want the dough to be about ¼”/1cm thick.

Too thick and they won’t be so crispy and a big mouthful.
Cut out round disks with a 2 ½ inch (6cm) scalloped cookie or biscuit cutter and lay disks out on greased or paper baking sheets. My trays held about 20 cookies each.
Continue with the second disk till you have used up your dough. I also gathered up my dough scraps and rerolled them to use up all the dough. Keep at least half of the cookies as cold as you can while you roll the others out as it will make it easier when cutting the centers out.
Once you have all the dough cut out and on trays, Take half of your cookies and cut the center out with a small heart or round cutter about 1inch (3 1/2cm). You want to have enough border to keep the cookie together and yet have enough removed to see your Nutella inside.
I kept the heart cut outs intact and baked them as they were.
Bake at 325*F (180*) till lightly brown, about 10 minutes. I am not entirely sure of the time as I have a convection oven that bakes quickly so I tend to bake them on a lower temperature for a shorter time. A regular oven temperature and time may vary. You might need a 350* oven.
Cool so they are manageable and won’t break, but while they are still slightly warm spread your Nutella over the bottoms of the whole disks. The top will sit flat if you use the bottom of your cookies to cover with Nutella.** I use Nutella straight out of my jar as it is super creamy. If your variety isn’t you could soften it up with a little honey or a few drop of vegetable oil.
If you want to dust the tops of your cookies with powdered sugar, do so with a sieve or small strainer before you top the cookies that have the Nutella spread over them.
Other wise top all of your cookies with the cut outs.
I also spread Nutella over half of the heart cookies and sandwiched them together.
Serve with espresso or your favorite hot beverage. 

Prepping the cookies
My previous Nutella day recipe links

03 February 2012

Baked Pears in Red Wine Sauce

Finally winter has arrived complete with sugar frosted trees, a blanket of snow and temperatures low enough to keep you running to stoke the fire. My mind continues to turn to foods that bring comfort on these winter days. Although February has arrived with long anticipated snow and the days are somewhat longer and lighter, comfort dishes still beckon like a siren calling you to crash on the shore.  
Pears figure in often during these comfort seeking days. I'm a huge fan of poaching pears as well as pear cakes and tarts, but I must say that the simplicity of oven baked in red wine till glisteningly caramelized with a luscious gorgeous thick wine sauce underneath that you might find you will want to make a bit more as it is just that tasty. It's a wonderful drizzling sauce to go over ice cream, plain yogurt with bananas or just about anything that strikes your fancy. 

Caramelized Pears in Red Wine sauce
Pere Caramellate in salsa al vino rosso

Serves 6 
easily doubled

6  Pears, firm variety like Kaiser or Williams,  medium sized, if organic you won't need to peel them
100g (1/2 c) sugar, I like to use a granulated organic raw cane sugar, but regular white is fine
350g (1 1/2c) red wine, I use a barbera or dolcetto table wine. It does't need to be an expensive wine


  • Wash and pat dry. If you prefer you can peel them, but I found them deliciously rustic with the skins on, although you will get more color contrast when peeled. which may be n ice for serving guests.
  • Trim the bottom of the pears so they will sit up straight, peel, if desired.
  • You might want to use a ceramic baking dish that you can bring to the table. Lightly butter or oil. I used a metal rectangular pan, lined with baking paper and stood the pears upright. 
  • Pour the wine over all the surfaces of the pears.
  • Sprinkle the sugar over the pears so that the sugar sticks to the tops and sides of the pears. **
  • Bake in a preheated oven 400* oven. I have a convection oven and bake at 180*-190*C (350*F) for about 45 minutes. If you have the time you can baste the pears with the sauce every 15 minutes for a deeper color. 
  • The pears should be soft and the wine sauce thicken and deep rich color. 
**Optional spices if you like, but they are quite nice as is.
Do use a simple combination of spices, as too many will over complicate it.
I prefer them without the spices for the pure clean flavor.
Use whole spices so they are easily seen and fished out.
Some suggestions
**A few citrus peels, a few pink or black peppercorns, 6 juniper berries, a stick of cinnamon, broken in two, 2 whole cloves, 4 whole allspice, 2 star anise, a few peeled ginger slices.  

01 February 2012

Snow Time

Bella Baita all in white
At long last winter has arrived with a blast of cold that has set our teeth chattering and running to stoke our wood fired stoves with as much wood as we possibly can. This winter has been so mild that it seemed we would just bypass it all together. My geraniums and lavender have put out new growth while lounging in their winter storage spot. We had a variety of strange weather these past few months, dry and warm like September, leaving the forest so dry that it didn't take much for a wildfire to spring up and take hold, just a few kilometers behind us. It was clearly visible and we watched it warily spread out and become unmanageable due to the ferocious winds that fanned the flames for a couple of days. Alas, the fire was contained, thanks to the effort of many volunteers, and then snow arrived. Peace reigns in the kingdom again. Hurrah!  We received about 1/2 meter or a foot and ad a half or so and now we're still waiting for the promised blue skies, but the sparkly white down comforter is a welcome change, not only for it's beauty, but also with the knowledge that our water supplies will be sufficiently replenished. That bodes well for a bounteous porcino season come spring. That alone makes even the haters of shoveling and cold temperatures warm up to our latest weather.
Now you see why the shoveling isn't so much fun

A walk in the neighborhood

Home again, home again, jiggity jog...
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