28 January 2013

Fresh Orange Tart- adding a bit of sun to winter

Francesco, our favorite citrus vendor
This winter the snow has been slow to arrive after a very early appearance around the 26 October when all was green and the leaves were still on the trees. Now that the white blanket of snow has covered up the unrelenting brown of the winter, it's time for a splash of color. My favorite winter remedy would be the luscious citrus fruits from the south of Italy. Our Sicilian citrus farmers send up some of the tastiest oranges, clementines, and mandarins found anywhere. I always look forward to late autumn when the road side trucks laden with oranges begin to reappear randomly and in regular pull off points where they beckon you to buy a case or two of sunshine and sweetness. Drawn to pull over and inspect the vendors goods, unable to resist the siren song of oranges, we come away with a case of oranges and mandarins. Orange indulgences to follow. We've peeled and juiced these globes of desire until I finally begin to use them up in other ways that requires a tad more effort. 
Tarocco or "Tarot" oranges which are called red oranges here never called blood oranges
I made this orange tart to try and replicate it after having enjoyed a fabulous slice at Caffe' Roma, which is one of our favorite bars in Pinerolo,  The cafe is located at the corner of Piazza Roma, where the daily Farmers market usually draws us in on our market visits. Caffe'Roma is owned and run by 3 brothers, of which 2 work in the  bar and one brother, Francesco, runs the kitchen. I frequently run into the chef shopping at this market and that always puts a smile on my face. I actually see a number of local restauranteurs shopping here and that is so encouraging. Caffe' Roma is a popular lunch time choice, as they serve deliciously genuine and reasonably priced food. You can choose to dine inside or al fresco at one of the curbside tables. I love Franceso's orange tart as it is not one that I have made or enjoyed much before coming to live in Italy. His selection of desserts are always enticing. He has shared his talent, teaching workshops at the restaurant, and at Frossasco's Mueso del Gusto. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend, so I am left to my own resources. My recipe for this tart is pretty simple as he told it should be. Perhaps not the perfection that I found in his balance of flavor and technique, but tasty and worth making when you want to bring a little sunshine into your day.
Crostat di Arance---Fresh Orange Tart

Fresh Orange Tart or Crostata di Arance

Yields: 1-10 inch or 1-25 cm  crust
Oven Temp 200*C /375*F to blind bake the crust then later to 190*C / 350*F

Pasta Frolla


200g flour, plain flour or Italian 00 (1 1/2 c / 7 oz flour**) 
125g butter, chilled, but not soft or too hard (1/2c / 4.4 oz)
75 g sugar, granulated or castor (6 T / 2.6 oz)
2 egg yolks

Add sugar to the flour and mix.
Cut the butter into smallish pieces and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers.
Make a well in the middle of the dough.
Add the egg yolks, and stir or mix well with your hands till it comes together in a soft dough.
Knead lightly and briefly to get a smooth dough, being careful not to work the dough too much
Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, as it makes it easier to handle.
Roll out on floured surface or between lightly floured parchment paper for ease.
**Cooks notes: I have found the dough might require more flour as weight to volume flour conversions can vary greatly. Add a little flour at a time if you think the dough is too sticky to get it to be a manageable dough and if necessary, be generous with the flour when rolling the dough out.

For the filling:

Orange peel (organic is best) 
1/2 c sugar 
1/2 c  water
500g oranges slices, peeled  (a little over a pound of oranges, after peeled, maybe 4)
Apricot preserves or Orange marmalade,  a goodly amount as needed for covering the crust and glazing the top,
Brandy or rum


Mix up the pasta frolla and refrigerate.
While waiting for the dough to chill, prepare your filling.
Wash the whole oranges and wipe dry.
Before removing the peel from the orange, I either zest or use a channel knife to remove the orange peel zest or strips before actually removing it from the orange itself. 
If you hve neither tool, remove the peel form the oranges, making sure to remove the white pith from the orange. If the white pith is too plentiful scrape some off with a small paring knife. 
Julienne (cutting the peel into thin slivers) the peel.
 In a small sauce pan add the water and sugar and heat to boil. 
When the sugar is dissolved add some or all of the peel. You might need to increase the amount of equal parts of sugar/ water if you have a lot of peels. 
Simmer the peels in the sugar water till softened and translucent. Remove from the syrup and lay flat on a plate or waxed paper when cooled to dry slightly. 
Set aside.

Slice your peeled oranges into rounds and set aside also.
Roll your pastry out to fit a 10" or 25 cm removable bottom tart tin.
Place your pasta frolla in the pan and trim as needed.
Prick the bottom of the pastry generously with a fork.
Line the pastry with baking paper and weigh down with beans or another pan that fits inside. 
Blind bake at 200* C / 375*F for about 20-25 minutes, removing the pan partway though the baking so the middle bakes more thoroughly. With beans or weights, i would bake with them on top the whole time. 
Cool slightly.

Mix your preferred preserves with a few drop of brandy or rum to thin slightly. Warm up on the stove top to make it easier to spread. 
Cover the bottom with a thinnish layer of preserves. I used marmalade as I have quite a bit on hand that I make. 
Now cover the bottom with your jam and crust with the orange slices in a decorative circle, slightly overlapping the edges, till all is covered.
Lower the temperature of your oven to 190*C/350*F
Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes to cook through. 
Thin more marmalade with liquor to make a thin glaze and light glaze the whole tart while warm. Let cool at least 15 minutes before trying to cut it. It will be hard to resist the urge to devour it right out of the oven, but do wait or the crust will crumble. 
Great served at room temperature and is just as tasty the next day or so. 

Let the sun shine through!

04 January 2013

A Surprising December

It's a new year and a fresh start for projects already imagined and others still to present themselves. I am looking forward to meeting new people through their visits to our B&B in Val Chisone, but also people that I meet who present themselves through this blog or other various paths to our door. I started this blog back in 2006 when I had barely even heard of blogs, but had read that they helped bring traffic to connected websites. Ah ha, a way to help people find out our little known alpine valley before the 2006 Winter Olympics actually put us on the map. It's challenging to have people find you if they don't know to even be looking. Anyway, my blog originally was to focus on our surrounding area, events that happen here and reasons to visit with us here. Being a keen cook and baker, it didn't take me long to realize that food posts always bring more traffic than anything, so I included some of the recipes that I make along the way. I am not always the most disciplined recipe follower, more of a bit of this and that, so I find that my recipes are a slow process to write so I don't chronicle everything I make and often times I forget to take a photo...oops! Sometimes I even add in my personal experiences, but usually shy away from that as I want to stay focused on promoting this area. Today, I want to reflect on one of my very recent past experiences before moving on to 2013's new experiences,  as I feel compelled to speak my mind on this subject. As an American expat I am forever noticing similarities and differences in my two countries. It's just natural curiosity for me. I don't believe  either country is better or perfect but there are some striking differences at times on both sides that gets me a bit fired up a bit.
Pinerolo'a emergency entrance of the Agnelli hospital
Todays topic is  Italian health care, socialist healthcare at it's best.  Early in December I found myself experiencing some abdominal pains that I have been managing for quite a while as I had been diagnosed with gall bladder  disease. I didn't know before, but it seems to run through my dad's side of the family.  It was recommended for me to have the gall bladder removed, but I resisted, as I am a big believer in trying to heal my body naturally. So I embarked on a path to improve the health of my gall bladder and had quite a bit of success. Unfortunately, not enough, as I finally realized as the pain became less manageable. I knew it had taken a shift, but didn't realize what that meant exactly. On my merry way I continued, until it became apparent that things were not going in the right direction and something needed to be done. There were missteps on both my part and the national health organization  in that I missed my operation date and wound up in the emergency room in distress. I wanted to go home as the symptoms subsided while waiting, but Fabrizio wouldn't hear of it. Smart man. Anyway, the gall bladder was idling along while the pancreas became inflamed and threatened to create far more difficulties than originally diagnosed. Silly me.
Christmas tree on the surgery floor and lots of Panettone  for the staff.
So they admitted me to the hospital and began to treat me for the pancreatitis until it was safe to remove the gall bladder. It was a long 12 days. It was  good experience considering, as all the doctors and nurses were as dedicated and caring as any that I have ever come in contact with in America. I found that my Italian was better than I realized, learned a lot of new words, and had the notion reinforced  once again that caring and professionalism knows no language or any other barrier.
Who knew how delicious semolino soup, with grana Padano  cheese instead of salt could taste soooo good!

So what was different and why do I feel so compelled to write about this experience?  It is because the financial underpinnings are so very different. So vastly different. Socialized medicine in Italy means you pay little or nothing at all and the care is first rate. Free or affordable health care is a basic human right in Italy. Everyone on our floor was equal and receiving excellent care no matter what our economic status might be. That usually is the case in the hospital, but at least none of us were worrying about financial ruin. The staff worked very hard and I appreciate what a tough job being a doctor or nurse is anywhere in the world. i take my hat off to these under appreciated professionals. A heartfelt thank you from me to you!  I know there are probably many other people that can tell other stories, but this was my experience. I am sure that larger cities and other places feel the strain at times to be able to offer excellent health care, but our local system is excellent and I am very grateful.
New addition to our hospital
Our local Pinerolo hospital originally built with the support of the Angelli family, our areas patron saint, of Fiat fame and fortune, has recently been updated and expanded. I was fortunate enough to be in the new wing and it truly was a pleasant place to stay if you find yourself in need of their services. I have been intrigued since I have been living here about how you, the patient/customer are more involved and responsible with your own care on different levels. Pharmacies all have a licensed doctor that is able to prescribe needed medicines, often eliminating a doctors visit. Over the counter drugs are pretty much non existent and you will pay more for some of those types of medicine, but most prescriptions are quite reasonably priced.  There is much interest and support in preventative measures  for diseases like heart disease, diabestes and such sometimes hereditary predispositions. When you need to see a doctor you show up at one of their offices, that they keep regular hours at with your medical records in hand, no receptionists, you just need to see who is the last person in line and find your place in the queue. First come, first served. The doctor has their computer and all of your records are on file. When you need a test done the doctor gives you a computerized order form that you use to get your test done and then to use to pay the hole in the wall machine who gives you a receipt and change if you need it. The receipt then gets you  a copy from the staff who manage the records and make special appointments for you. Pretty efficient  in spite of sometimes needing to wait a bit. But hey, whenever I have gone to the doctors in the states, I have waited incredible amounts of time even with an appointment. No perfect system anywhere. America has great healthcare, if you can afford it or if you have a job with health care benefits. Those benefits are getting very difficult to obtain these days. Health care in America has become big business and for me that seems like the wrong direction to go. Italy has all kinds of economic woes, and I am sure health care is a part of it, but it isn't the main problem. and it is still considered a basic human right, so hooray for that. I know that the new health care reform is not a perfect piece of legislation and yet I think it is a step in the right direction for everyone in the states. I guess my point is please do not fear this change so much as embrace that all Americans may afford the health care that in my opinion is a basic human right. We are all in this together and need to find solutions that include for the greater good of us all. We all need to take care of ourselves and each other, because in the end, it's all that really matters. At least that is how it seems to me...Thanks for listening to my personal belief, that we all matter! And now on to a more healthful and prosperous 2013 for all!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart! 
Oh yes, I am fine and doing well.
  I had a quiet and wonderfully peaceful Christmas at home and a happy New Year with friends.
Thanks for asking, now you don't need to! Ciao Ciao....Marla

PS....the volunteer clowns were a nice touch, even for us old fogeys!
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