17 March 2015

Bella Baita's 1st Handcrafted Artisan Bread Workshop

Udite! Udite!
Announcing Bella Baita's  
Handcrafted Artisan Bread Workshop

May 22-25, 2015  (2 Days / 3 Nights)

Learn to make gorgeous handcrafted breads in the beautiful Italian Alps using natural leavening and commercial yeast to produce incredible tasting bread with a longer shelf life.

Ralph's Trademark Lattice loaf

I am more than a little excited to invite you to join us to participate in our 1st Handcrafted Artisan Bread Workshop coming up this May 22-25.  
Fabrizio and myself, Marla will be hosting this 2 day workshop with our very special guest teacher, from Holland, the very talented and masterful baker Ralph Neiboer
Ralph Neiboer and some of his breads

I met Ralph online through an Artisan Bread Baking Group where he not only posted some of the most incredibly beautiful and tempting breads, but I noticed he seemed to be helping everyone with with his friendly and encouraging expertise. When I saw that he taught workshops it didn't take us long to contact him and decide to offer this bread making workshop.
 Ralph is a self taught baker whose passion for making bread that is well made using a variety of grains and methods for crafting bread that is incredibly flavorful, but are works of art in themselves. Ralph followed his passion in 2012 and began Bakkerij or Breadworks Workshops , as a way for him to teach his gospel of authentic bread made by your own two hands. He teaches in and around Schagen, Netherlands and also further from home around Europe. He also attends several master classes in bread making taught by masters like Josep Pascual and others whenever he can. You will not want to miss this opportunity to bake with Ralph and learn what this humble bread master has to share with us. 
Ralph at home baking pizza in a wood fired oven


Ralph's Pizza
Classes will take place in our kitchen and dinning room where we normally host our cooking classes at Bella Baita. Our kitchen is set up for hands on classes, mixing everything by hand to get the feel for the dough. Techniques are easily adapted to mixers that you might use at home. 

Our dining area also has tables to mix and roll out doughs with plenty of room to spread out. 
Marla and guests

We will be baking in a convection oven, gas, and wood fired, so we will really get to see the differences they all make. Participants will be limited to no more than 8 people, so there will plenty of opportunity to get personalized instruction and attention to your questions.

Bella Baita's breads and pizza in our wood fired oven
The workshop will cover a variety of methods of bread making, including natural leavening often called sourdough, but more accurately described as wild yeast as well as some breads made with commercial yeast. We will be using different types of leavening, some that are liquid and some that are firm. You will be instructed on how best to maintain them. Best of all you are welcome to take some of the natural leavens home with you when you go. 

During the workshop you will be introduced to:

  • The making of a wild yeast starter along with the care and feeding of it
  • High hydration bread doughs and how to handle them
  • Whole grain and heritage flour varieties, like durum, spelt, rye, einkorn
  • Shaping of loaves making a variety of shapes
  • Long cold proofing of loaves for maximum flavor
  • Decorative techniques and styling
  • Some of the possibilities that will be covered will be no knead bread, ciabatta, country batards, boules, rolls, lattice covered loaves, pizza and focaccia

Ralph's open holed structured bread
Marla's Einkorn loaves with sourdough scones made with stone ground wheat flour
Bella Baita with Monviso in the background

For those of you not familiar with Bella Baita, we are a small B&B Inn located 50km southwest from Turin's Caselle airport, in the foothills of the Italian Piemontese Alps, 12km west from Pinerolo. We are situated at 1,10 m (3,600 ft) in the chestnut and pine forest about 6 km up from the small village of Pinasca. 
As we are somewhat remote from town, we are making the work shop over a long weekend, arriving Friday in time for dinner where we can all relax and introduce ourselves. I will be demonstrating a focaccia dolce that we will have for breakfast on Saturday morning. 
Marla and Fabrizio
Fabrizio and I will be on hand to facilitate the workshop and make your stay with us a welcome one. We are both former chefs that have been running our B&B Inn for about 11 years. We teach northern Italian cooking and are passionate about our mountains, food, and promoting this area for its beauty and off the beaten path charm. We have an organic garden, actively shop our farmers markets, promote local food producers, artisans, and do our part to support all local businesses. We hope you will join Ralph and us as we share our passion for healthy genuine bread. 

Our dining and part of our work space 
The price for the workshop is €250 per person and includes:
  • Three nights lodging
  • All lovingly prepared home made meals with local wine or soft drink
  • All materials and course fee for the workshop
**Inquire about pricing that includes includes all meals for non participating workshop guests sharing a room with a workshop participant. 

Please do not hesitate to call or write us now as places are limited and times is drawing near.  

Write us at  Info@bellabaita.com  
Mobile Tel: Marla (0039) 339 750 3940 
Mobile Tel: Fabrizio (0039) 347 984 2945

Visit our website to learn more about the area and our inn 

See you soon!!!!!!

10 March 2015

Take Me Away to the Via Lattea!

Postcards from our passing 2015 winter
Colle Bergia- Claviere Peak
Though the sounds, smell, and feel of spring are thick in the air, I am just not quite ready to leave this winter wonderland  beauty behind. Having lived and worked in a Colorado ski resort area for many years, when we got to March and April spring's warmth and promise of summer to come would be vaguely in the air, when it wasn't buried under a ton of snow. I found it was such a beautiful time of the year and a wonderful time to ski. Normally that time also coincided with it being our busiest time of the year, so it is nice to enjoy the beauty of winter here in our Italian alps with out all the stress of mass producing loads of bakery products. Instead I am working on my home production of new foods and ideas for our coming season of guests and "Cooking Together" classes
Nice change indeed. 
Fabrizio in Claviere and Marla in Mongenèvre 
Fabrizio and I managed to pull ourselves away form our endless projects, got up early and treated our selves to a day on the Via Lattea.  The "Vialattea, Sciare senza confini "which translates as the "Milky Way, skiing without borders" is the largest interconnected ski areas in Europe. 
The Alps stretching out before us from the top of Claviere ski area

It unites 7 ski areas, two of which, Pragelato and Sestriere, are at the top of our Chisone valley, and goes up and over to the Susa valley that runs parallel to us over the mountain behind us and included in these Olympic venues of 2006, is also Mongenèvre in France. So we headed up and over the top of our valley to Claviere and skied in two countries in one day, Italy in the morning and late afternoon and France for top of the hill skiing, with lunch on the deck in France on a clear blue sky kind of day, ooh, la la!
Please note that all the food is served on real plates, cutlery, and glass water bottle. Very Nice!

La Baita --note the name, a mountain house or chalet
A little chalet right on the ski piste
We usually ski across the way at Prali one of our most favorite and closest to home above tree line ski areas, and Sestriere being the next closest. We are close enough for a great day out skiing, but if you are planning a ski holiday where you will ski every day, you would want to be much closer to the slopes than where we are located. Guests at Christmas time have often spent a few days skiing and other days doing other activities, like snow shoeing, site seeing,  cooking or shopping. 
Mighty Mt Chamberton

 It's a great thing living so close to the ski areas, but not right in them. I love that we are moving in to t spring. the primula are poking their heads out of the snow and the birds are singing their little hearts out as well.  I heard a woodpecker today making a bit of racket after all of this white winter quiet. It is nice to revisit and it nice to know that spring is surely on its way, but just for today, we'll enjoy this winters wonderland. 

14 February 2015

Our Story - Marla and Fabrizio, a Valentines Tale

Fabriazio and Marla -Bella Baita Italian Alps Retreat 2014
San Valentino or Valentine's day is a special day for us. It's our wedding anniversary, and it was an unforgettable experience, however I am getting ahead of my story.
Bella Baita B&B in Summer
If there has been a singular question asked of me in the past 14 years, it has undoubtedly been, "Sooooo, how did you two meet?" or some variation of that phrase. I have a standard short and long form of my answer, that Fabrizio always defers to my telling of the tale. Today, I am going to tell you the condensed long version. I hope you enjoy it.
Before I met Fabrizio, the number one question was, how did you end up working in Europe, so I will start out by setting the stage for "our story" by answering how an American ended up in the Italian Alps of Piedmont, with my darling crazy mountain man. I hope you enjoy our tale.

Marla & Fabrizio - date in Volterra, Italy summer 2001
C'era una volta, or once upon a time.....
I had a desire to do something significantly different from my then so called life in the mountains of Colorado. It might have been a mid life questioning of where I had been and where I was going or perhaps it was the shedding of yet another skin of my layered life. It turned out to be a combination of both. 
After many years of living at big altitude, (9,075 ft or  2,776m) where I made peace with winter by learning to ski and worked my way up the slippery male dominated ladder of professional success, to become the pastry chef for Copper Mt Resort, for abut 12 years,  I felt restless to move on, to stretch and try something new. Thing is in a ski resort area, there weren't always a broad spectrum of opportunities. Usually it seemed that you were changing locations and people, but the seasonality and job ended up being much to be more of the same. I wasn't sure what this change was suppose to look like, perhaps, to travel and not be in one place. I had reached many goals and lived a great mountain life, but my life had changed and I needed a completely new challenge. Running a pastry department in a large ski resort  had been an incredible experience of growth and opportunity as well as meeting and working with a lot of different people. However, mass production for 4 cafeterias, 5 restaurants and conference services with a summer crew of 7 and around 20 ski and snowboarders that changed every season, had worn a little thin over the years. I really wanted a new challenge, one that would be quite different from what I had already done. Hmmm, what to do? 
Skimming through the short and not so sweet want ads in the daily paper I wasn't expecting much. I had been perusing the ads for awhile and knew them by heart, ski resort workers, ski techs, wait staff, cleaners, mountain photographers, and shuttle bus drivers, just to name a few gives you the drift of my indifference. However, when I spied "Chalet Host Required", my interest was piqued. My heart did a little "skip to my lou". The interview with the program director and resort manager from the UK, sealed the deal for me. They were so charming and we laughed so much, and when I told them that I really needed for the job to be more than just for the winter and maybe could I work in Europe for them, I was delighted when they said yes. After much soul searching and reevaluating of how I could completely rearrange my life both physically and financially, to make this kind of crazy seasonal job work, I found myself with a year round (with a few gaps between the two seasons) for a British Tour company that would allow me to work in Breckenridge, Colorado in the winter and the Alps of Slovenia, Switzerland and Austria in the summer. It was, to put it mildly, a blast. I now had guests instead of employees and even though my work load increased and my monetary income decreased, I was happy to be doing things that I knew well and others that were completely foreign. It was a wonderful experience with a whole new world of package holidays and British guests that opened up my European sojourn. That however is another story for another day. Suffice it to say that after about 4 years of the Holiday Representative life, which means mostly living in a hotel, and was suppose to be a one year transitional job, I found myself looking yet again for yet another, different experience. 
On the main street of Casole d'Elsa where I lived
A fortuitous phone call I received one day out of the blue, made my day and sent me on my way to Italy. An American colleague  that I had worked alongside in the chalet hosting days in Breckenridge, called me a couple years after an off hand comment to her, that her job as a chef for an English art school in Tuscany sounded like something I would love and if she ever was getting rid of it, I would be interested. How lucky was that? Turns out it was pretty lucky. Next thing I know I landed that job and I was off to little Casole d'Elsa in the Siena province of Italy to cook my little heart out for the Verrocchio Art Center ( Il Centro d'Arte Verrocchio), for yet another exciting chapter in my life. 
Marla between meals on the terrace of the Centro d'Arte Verrocchio 2002
I would like to point out that this is the happily ever after version of my story. I have included only the best and happiest parts only of my tale. Naturally, the whole tale, has it's dark moments of self doubt, uncertainty, fear of failure, seemingly defeat and triumph as well as heart wrenching loneliness  at times. I traveled through the whole spectrum of human feelings that go with change and the risk of  trying something new.  It is easy to leave those parts out as they are so personal and dark, but just know that my life isn’t charmed, it is real with all the good and not so hot stuff included, but over all I can say I have made every effort to embrace everything that comes my way. It is part of the spice that makes it my life. I just want to share the triumphant part right now. 
So now I found myself in a small (900 people including the surrounding hamlets) walled  hilltop town in Tuscany with only 3 streets running through town. Casole d'Elsa is situated in the neighborhood of Siena, Firenze, San Gimignano and Volterra. Wow, can you say wow! It was amazing and intoxicating as Tuscany's scenery is so iconic and evocative with its rolling hills, slender cypress trees, walled hilltop towns in the distance, oozing beauty, art and history. What's not to love. I busied myself immersing in the local flavor and figuring out what the local cuisine was all about before taking over the reigns of the Centro's kitchen where I would be in charge of the feeding the art school's staff, students and teachers that changed every fortnight. Many of the attendees had been coming to this school for years and years, so there was pressure to measure up and surpass expectations. I was nervous. Luckily my friend, Euni who was leaving the position, was around for a couple of weeks so that I could observe and learn whilst I served food at the local osteria /enoteca, Caffe` Casolani. It was a very confusing time at first, between the language, or more accurately my lack of, and reorienting myself to being in a new kitchen with none of my usual tools since I hadn't been carrying any of that around whilst walking and skiing the Alps. Fortunately, every one was generously helpful with their knowledge and time, so I was starting to relax into this new Italian rhythm.
Caffe Casolani- where I worked when I first arrived
The  first new rhythm I had to adjust to was the heat. It was spring and the mornings and evenings were lovely and cool, but the heat of the day meant that it was best to get up early and get things done and pull down the shades in the afternoon and try not to sweat your soul out or maybe take your mid day break in the local bar whilst chatting and getting to know your new flat mates and coworkers from the art school. So one day, in what was either my first or second week in the job by myself, the two British gals I worked with and I were in Bar Barroccio, passing our mid day break in casual conversation and cooling drinks. I noticed there were a couple of guys in the booth next to us but didn't really pay much attention other than one of them was intently reading the paper. It wasn't too long before the cute curly haired one, who had seemed so engrossed in his paper reading, was leaning over towards our table whilst he commented to his companion. "Hey Johnny, there are some girls over here that you can speak English with, in fact, you can speak American with one of them." What an opening line, and one that I have never forgotten. We all chatted for awhile and as it turned out we all had to go back and serve dinner that night, but we would maybe see them again that night after work. What do you think the chances of that were? Well, there were only 2 bars in town and the other one is where you bought your tickets for the local bus, but seldom ever stayed in there for very long as it was smoky and full of old men usually playing cards. The other bar where we met, was where the night life was, if there was any. It was mostly doing the "passeggiata" up and down the main street of Casole, either getting a drink at one end or a gelato at the other. There were always people promenading up and down the street trying to keep cool on these hot Tuscan nights.

That was how we met and it wasn't long before Fabrizio was kindly offering his help for expanding my Italian culinary knowledge.  He was working as a Maitre' d hotel in a local Agriturismo along with John, who was an American doing a stage at the same restaurant. The restaurant was working toward getting a Michelin star. Fabrizio took a degree as a chef when he was young as he grew up cooking and serving in his family's "La Baita" mountain restaurant. He went on to take a couple more degrees, as he found that he preferred to be out front with the guests and managing the restaurants. Anyone who knows Fabrizio would understand that, as he has such an outgoing personality and loads of energy. Fabrizio can keep the show going and everyone laughing, which are a couple of wonderful qualities that I adore. Fabrizio had found his way to Casole after escaping where he grew up and about four years working in the UK where he perfected his English. Unfortunately for him, he has now perfected his American. He had been working in different parts of Italy with a couple of stints in Poland doing some consulting work on setting up hotel restaurants and various other restaurant work when he landed in Casole to help them reach some of their goals. It didn't take him long to get his apron on and help me out in the kitchen at the Centro, so that I got myself organized and comfortable so that I could relax into the job, but also so I could get out of work a bit earlier on our mid day break and see a bit of the countryside. It was a memorable season and will always be a special time in our lives. It was pretty easy to fall in love with a man that cooks and sings to you in the kitchen. That is also not to mention that he does dishes, will clean the house, fix the car, chop the wood, get up and build a fire before any of us are up and will try any cuisine I make and compliments me frequently. I was to learn all of that along the way.  He is a pretty special man and I am happy we met and that our paths continued in the same direction.  I think we are both pretty lucky.
Fabrizio and Marla in the Centro d'Arte Verrocchio kitchen
Over the next year we came up here to his family's home to assess the possibilities. We went to America to meet my family and check out Colorado where I had lived and still feels like home to me. I returned to Tuscany for another season and Fabrizio came here to work on setting up the rooms that were not in use so that we could open as a B&B and try to make a business where there wasn't one. His parents had retired and were renting out their restaurant part of the building to other people and so we made the rest of the building come to life as Bella Baita B&B. 
We returned to America in 2007 and had been trying to manage the logistics of where and how to get married for a few years without it ever becoming clear or easy. So when one of my friends mentioned the Loveland ski area's Valentines Day promotion, "Marry Me and Ski for Free". We decided that was really just the thing for us. So we got a license and joined 60 other couples on a cold and snowy Valentines day and said our vows to each other on top of a ski mountain. It was special, we both cried and then we skied a few powder runs before enjoying a reception at the ski lodge. We had already booked to teach a cooking class for that night, so off we went to teach and celebrate a lovely evening with friends, good food we made together and wonderful wine from the wine cellar. It was memorable and unique and just right for us. 
The snowy ceremony- many people were inside keeping warm

Fabrizio and Marla February 14, 2007 Loveland Ski Area, Colorado ,USA
As they years have passed, we now have use of the whole of the building, we offer cooking classes, local short break culinary tours, we have a large organic garden that we are constantly improving with the help of volunteers from organizations like Wwoof.it and Workaway.info. We will be offering courses on sustainable living and gardening in the future and expanding our cooking classes with bread workshops  and more varied culinary tours. We are still chefs that enjoy guests and we hope that now that you know a bit more about us, that you might come and meet us in person and share our slice of Italian life in the Alps and discover our not so well known, but certainly deserving valley and what we have on offer. Vi aspettiamo. We are waiting for you. 
Marla and Fabrizio at Bella Baita February 11, 2014

Bella Baita View

05 February 2015

Croissants with Nutella - Celebrating World Nutella Day 2015

It was a perfect snowy day here to indulge with my  Nutella filled Croissants
I haven't made real croissants in ages as I usually make a fast and yummy yogurt crescent that suits me just fine. However I have been wanting to test out a new stone ground flour that I am not able to buy locally on a variety of breads and pastry so I know how it turns out. It is not a white white flour and it is somewhat gritty, so it is important to know how it acts when making a variety of breads or pastries before I serve it to guests. I already learned that it is quite fragile when making thin crust pizzas for the wood oven, so I am still tweaking on that recipe. I found that this flour makes a beautiful croissant, full of flavor and an enchanting golden color. I used my natural wild yeast, sometimes called  sour dough,  that gave the finished product just a nice tang that cut through the butteriness. What's not to love?
My batch of croissants 
I won't kid you, it does take a bit of time to make these, and they are a bit fiddly, but the flavor and satisfaction are worth the effort. I feel the same about puff pasty and danish, which are the same process of building up layers of flour and butter through rolling out and folding, letting the dough rest in the cold and knowing just the right timing for the best results that it might be a tad daunting. However, I think you will find once you get the hang of it all they are a delight to make and even nicer to share with the ones you love or maybe someone you want to impress.
Tea for three
Roll em up





World Nutella Day is an event created by Sara Rosso of Ms Adventures in Italy and Michelle Fabio of Bleeding Espresso, just for fun and for the love of this Italian national chocolate hazelnut treat. They put this event together a few years ago and then it disappeared for a few years whilst the owners of the Nutella company figured out how to join in the fun. So this year it's back and here's my offering for a great way to enjoy Nutella, slathered generously on a freshly baked croissant. I did make mine from scratch over a 3 day period. You of course can do the same or you can buy some and bring them home to enjoy at your leisure, naturally.

Wild Yeast Croissants filled with Nutella
If you are interested in making them, I used Jeffery Hamelman's Classic Croissants recipe that uses American measurements and you will find that recipe here. If you prefer your measurements in metric, as I do now, you can find the metric variation of that recipe here.
Both recipes are clearly explained and beautifully illustrated with photos to make your project come together easily.
I hope you enjoy making them as much as I did and hope you have a wonderful World Nutella Day every day.
Fabrizio enjoying one for the camera

24 January 2015

Baked Pumpkin and Brussels Sprouts Rigatoni


This time of the year I find I am drawn to write more about recipes as I spend more time at home trying out new recipes that there never seems to be enough time for in the summer. I also find that many recipes are predicated by what's on hand or what is begging to  be used up. The garden provides a fair amount of winter veggies in such abundance that new recipes are definitely in order. Back in the autumn when I saw this recipe on one of my favorite TV cooking programs,  for what seems to me to be an adult version of macaroni and cheese, I knew I was in. I just happened to have an excess of pumpkin and this years crop of Brussels sprouts was abundant, which just happened to be two of the main ingredients of this pasta al forno, which is what oven baked pasta is called here. 
I do like creamy cheesy baked pasta, but  the thought of replacing some of the cheese with pumpkin or winter squash for a creamy and rich sauce that's not too much. This version is a tad lighter yet satisfyingly scrummy. I find this is a great way to use up odds and ends of cheeses and different varieties of pumpkin or squash. Its just good if you have a soft disintegrating variety of pumpkin and one that holds its shape, for added interest in this mix. Caciocavallo cheese is very much like provolone and yet I found other cheeses work quite well also. So if you don't have  the exact ingredients, don't hesitate to sub something that you prefer or have on hand. That's most of us do anyway, so feel free to use this as a framework for making a comforting pan of cheesy pasta and vegetables. I am sure you will agree. 
Mix and adjust the pasta to your taste

The pumpkin seeds add a great dimension of texture and flavor

Baked Rigatoni with Winter Squash and Brussels Sprouts 

Serves 6
Ingredients:
10 oz / 300 g pumpkin Kabocha or other meaty winter squash, cut into cubes 1 leek, cut into slices
2 bay leaves
3 T olive oil, extra virgin
1 3⁄4 c / 400 ml milk
10 oz / 300 g pumpkin Delicata, cut into pieces
4 T pumpkin seeds, divided in half
3.5 oz /100 g parmesan, grated
10 oz / 300 g cacio bucato or caciocavallo or provolone or whatever cheese you would like
7-8 oz / 200g ish Brussels sprouts, trimmed, washed and cut in half. 1# / 500 g of rigatoni
Pumpkin oil
salt

Method:

Place two tablespoons of olive oil and leek, in a saucepan.
Saute` slightly and then add the Delicata pumpkin pieces and season with some salt. Cover and cook over low heat, until the pumpkin is soft.
In another saucepan, place the pumpkin pieces with milk, half of pumpkin seeds, salt and bay leaf, Simmer for about 12 minutes on medium heat until the pumpkin is soft.
Remove from heat and keep warm.
Mix with an immersion blender, ( I would do this after the pasta is done)
Stir in half the cheese and half the grated parmesan.
Cook the pasta in salted water, I cooked about halfway before adding the brussel sprouts.
The original recipe add them together at the same time. I just preferred the sprouts to not be overcooked.
to which will be added also sprouts
Drain the pasta al dente, Toss the pasta and sprouts in a bowl with the the pumpkin cream.
Add the pumpkin stew and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Mix well.
Place it in a 9x13 baking pan (I lined the pan with parchment paper )brushed with pumpkin oil. Top the pasta with the grated cheese and sprinkle the other pumpkin seeds

Bake at 375* -400*F (200 °C ) till bubbly and top has browned.
Adult Mac and CheeseDon't you just love the crispy bits on top? I do.
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