26 October 2015

Winter Squash Alfredo for an Autumn's Day

Creamy Winter Squash or Pumpkin Alfredo 
This time of the year when the weather has turned and turned a tad early it seems, most of us start to think of comfort foods that are heartier than the summer fare of veggie salads and light summer fare. I must say I hate to see those warm summer days and the parade of garden veggies pass on into a fading memory that won't return until three more seasons have passed, but comfort food is here to stay for awhile. 
Autumn around our place, Bella Baita
We have been putting the garden to bed, but still have a fair amount of things to eat and put up to keep us and our volunteer helpers busy.  The weather is changeable and so we change up our work from outside to in and back again as the season dictates. We so appreciate their help and its always interesting to meet new people. 
Fabrizio and David with an autumn haul form the garden. 
And so with the harvesting of quite a few winter squash I have been busy making all the usual dishes in my repertoire of squash recipes. Every season I try to add a new or few new ones on. This season I came across a video for one pot creamy squash alfredo that I liked, but naturally just had to tweak to my taste.  I seem to keep inheriting more squash from other peoples bounty of winter squash as well, (Thank you cousin Giorgio!), so this recipe helps keep the bounty of squash in check. 
Give this recipe a whirl, and maybe put your own touches in it as you see fit and enjoy a delisciously creamy pasta without any cream. 
The elements and finished pasta dish

Winter Squash Alfredo

Serves 4 ish


2 T butter
2 T olive oil, I've made it with all oil and slightly less fat in general also
1 cup diced onion, I like red onions
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped, or you can use just the rosemary
1 T fresh sage, chopped
3 cups butternut squash, (1 1/2 lb / 800g) or any other winter squash that you have
1 cup vegetable stock
Cook 15 minutes
Smash the squash with a smasher till smoothish but still with some texture
1 cups milk, or stock if you prefer, 
1 cup Parmigiano  cheese
a bit of nutmeg, grated fresh into the mixture
4oo g fettucine, (generous 5 oz) I used our home made tagliatelle, a mix of spinach and plain egg


In a large deep skillet or saucepan, heat the oil and butter and add the onion. Saute´ the onions till they soften. Add the herbs and squash and continue to saute´ for a few minutes before adding the vegetable stock and cooking for about 15 minutes till the squash is soft and cooked through.
Meanwhile start to boil salted water for your pasta.
Cook the pasta till still firm, a bit more than al dente
Smash the mixture with a potato smasher.
Add the milk or veggie stock to make a loose sauce and continue to cook the sauce till it reduces to your desired creaminess. You can use more or less to get the sauce as you like it.
Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
When the  pasta is cooked, drain and mix into the sauce.
Adjust season and serve. 

31 August 2015

Summer Bella Baita Highlights 2015

Bella Baita and View of the French Border Along with Our Vegetable Garden
Time flies and the spring and summer season has passed me by in a blink. I had great intentions of keeping up on sharing the goings on of our life here in the alps, but alas that was not to be. We have had a great season this year with incredible hot sunny weather and friends visiting from around the globe. There are always so many directions to go when there are gardens to plant and tend, meals to plan, make and serve and new and old friends to enjoy visiting with. So here it is the end of August I guess I will share some of the highlights of this past season and savor the moments with you now that I have the luxury of time to do so. Naturally there is still plenty to do around here, but the pace has slowed and the season is changing. I  hope you like photos cause I am going to let them do most of the talking.
My childhood friend Denise and Me (Marla) What a great visit!
Unlike last year when the summer weather was less than stellar, this summer we have had blue skies and very warm temperatures, scorching and record breaking in parts of Italy. Even our little slice of heaven in the alps has been so warm that we've been sleeping with all the windows open for weeks now. Usually we tend to only have a short period of heat as the mountains seem to cool off quickly when the sun goes down but this year has been different. Warm days, warm nights, garden bounty with gelato and sorbet applied liberally and frequently.
Home made Strawberry Sorbetto
The summer not only brings friends out to tramp around our forests, sample our cooking and discover this little known part of the Italian Alps, it also brings us a variety of volunteers that work along side us during the season. Whether we are preparing the garden or tending it, chopping and stacking wood for the winter, weeding around our house, cleaning between stones on the old family home that is being reborn, whilst cooking together when we have cooking classes and cleaning up after meals, we always have time to learn more about other peoples lives from different parts of the world, and that is an enjoyable bonus to the season and extra hands helping out is always a big bonus. We thank all of our volunteers for all their hard work and companionship that made this season and every season such a success.  You guys rock!

Some Woofers and Workaway Volunteers 2015
A lot of our life here revolves around food as we are keen gardeners, cooks and market shoppers.
The twice weekly market in Pinerolo is one of our favorite stops. I love buying directly from the people that produce the food we buy and putting the money directly into their hands that are often gnarled and usually rough. It is a good feeling. We have become friendly with so many of them over the years and two of my favorites have finally been retired from the market by their daughter. At 86 years young they have been coming to the Pinerolo's farmers market for well over 60 years, 6 days a week, bringing everything on their bikes as neither ever drove a car. Luigi always had a trailer behind his rattle trap bike that he filled with recycled crates out of dumpster bins that overflowed with fresh picked fruits ad vegetable with the occasional chicken or rabbit to boot whilst he maneuvered his bike and cargo with ease, come rain or shine.  Their vitality in their older years amazed me and I admire their frugality and ingenuity. His gnarled hands tied up bundles of greens and carrots with lengths of flexible willow.  No twist ties for them. They had green beans so slender and tender and the most delicious figs that makes you want to sing.  But with the advancement of age and a few tumbles with thier bikes they are no longer coming to the market. It is hard for me to see their spot at the market empty or slightly taken over by the nearby vendors and I have no doubt it has been a difficult adjustment for them. Here's a small collage of some of my photos of them.
Laura and Luigi our favorite Pinerolo market vendors. Fabrizio and Marla are with them in the bottom corner
 So between our garden and shopping in the market, we manage to serve some wonderful food throughout the year. We love featuring our local Piemontese specialties with whatever  is in season and looks inviting. 

Our mountain garden
Our tempting array of culinary treats.
Picture left to right top to bottom...involtini with garden green beans, selection of local cheeses, peach and blackberry rustic tart, agnolotti del plin (meat ravioli), gifts from our garden, grilled aubergine and zucchini with dried tomato hazelnut pesto
We also love making pizza and baking my wild yeasted bread in our wood fired oven. There's nothing quite like the food that comes out of that oven. It's flavorful and fun to cook with.

Our home canned tomatoes make our pizza sauce all the more delicious

One of the highlights of our summer too is cooking together with our friends and doing a bit of wine tasting of local varieties, like Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, and Arneis. Pasta and raviolo making as well as gnocchi as well as bread and desserts, is a wonderful way to spend some of your holiday time with us. 

       One of the highlights of our summer too is cooking together with our friends and doing a bit of wine tasting of local wines.

It might seem like it's all about food, it isn't even though that is a large part of of our focus.
There are however mountains to see and climb or ride up on a ski lift during the summer.

Bella Baita View of the French Border

Prali Ski lift
There is the largest fortress in Europe, often referred to as the "Great Wall of Piedmont", to see.

Fortezza di Fenetrelle
 Quaint villages to explore.
Street scene in Usseaux
Music and events to catch.

And so much more to discover. 
We hope you'll come and visit with us and discover a part of the Alps worth finding. 
More stories and recipes coming up now that we have moved into the next part of the year. 
ciao for now....Marla

11 August 2015

Apricot Budino Dream

I'm late. I'm late.
For a very important date!
No time to say "hello" good bye.
I'm late.
I'm late.
I'm late.......
Said the white rabbit.....Ok perhaps I'm not too late.
There are still fresh apricots in the market and I hope you will be able to find some to make this incredible pudding.

I have been making this apricot pudding for a little while now since I discovered the recipe this summer in a local Italian magazine called, "Sale & Pepe" (Salt and Pepper).
Then the apricots began to rain down and I haven't stopped making it yet.
To me apricots are such an under appreciated fruit.
They're soft and luscious with a tartness that cuts through their sometimes mushy mash that delights and surprises the taste buds alone or with the other usual suspects, like deep rich chocolate  or buttery crisp pastry with a good measure of almonds, just to name a few.
However I digress.
Trust me try this pudding while the apricots last and if you miss them this year, make sure you book mark this recipe to try later.

Budino di Albicocche e Amaretti
Apricot and Amaretti Pudding
6 servings:
500 g apricots, fresh
120 g sugar (10 T)
3 ½ oz / 100 g (1 dl) white wine
1 stick of cinnamon
1 vanilla bean
4 eggs
5 amaretti cookies, crushed into fine crumbs

Wash the apricots and remove the pits.
Place the apricots, 40 g sugar(3 heaping T), white wine, sugar and cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean in a small sauce pan and cook on moderate heat for 30 minutes.
While the fruit is cooking, make the caramel.
Remove from the heat and remove the cinnamon and the vanilla bean.
Blend the fruit with the liquid till al is smooth and homogenous.
In a bowl whisk the eggs, add 80 g (the rest of the sugar) sugar, fruit sauce and amaretti crumbs.
Blend till well mixed.

100 g (½ c) sugar
15 g (1 T) water

In a smooth heavy bottomed sauce pan add the sugar and water.
Turn on the heat, cover with a lid.
Don't get distracted or walk away or most likely you will have burnt caramel.
Watch the pot till the sugar dissolves without stirring it and only slowly shake the pot if need to make the sugar smooth out.
Once the liquid begins to turn a golden caramel color and the desired color is achieved remove from the heat.
Slowly pour the caramel into the bottom of a small smooth bottomed tube pan, tilting the pan so the caramel goes slightly up the sides and center tube. Set aside till filling later.

Pour the fruit egg mixture into the tube pan with the caramel on the bottom. Place the filled pan into a larger pan that you can fill partly up the sides of the tube pan to make a water bath.
Bake the pudding at 350*F / 180* C. for roughly 1 hour or till the pudding is well set.
Remove from the oven and hot water bath and cool till tepid.
Refrigerate the pudding in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or over night if you like, before serving.
To serve, remove the pan from the refrigerator. Run a palette knife around the edges of the pudding to loosen. Sometimes it also helps to run the bottom of the pan over a warm surface or flame to loosen the caramel.
Place a plate over the top of the pudding pan and gently flip it over.
Tap gently if the pudding needs to be nudged to drop to the plate.

Slice and serve with whipped cream with a drizzle of the caramel from the pan. 

I can hear you smacking your lips now. 

02 May 2015

Weed Your Garden and Make Ravioli Gnudi with Nettles Recipe

Nettle Ravioli Gnudi with a Side of Smashed Cooked Cauliflower
Spring is here at last in full form and we all breath a sigh of collective relief. Ones attention turns toward activities that will take us outdoors after our winters nap and we fell the sun on our face and the fresh air fills our lungs. We can finally get our hands into the dirt and begin to plant that garden we've been thinking about all winter. We begin to eat a lighter fare after all of those hearty dishes of comfort that we rely upon to get us through times of cold and longing for the delicacies of summer. Naturally we dip back into those comfort foods at will, especially in the changeling seasons of spring and autumn before the season steadies on with, full on, hot or cold. However let us forage forward with a dish that is somewhere in between. 
A popular dish from the Tuscan region of Italy is called ravioli gnudi or naked ravioli. 
Adam and Eve "gnudi" - Mural Painting in the village of Usseaux
That's right folks, this is the ever popular spinach and ricotta filling rolled into balls and left without its pasta cloak on, then rolled in a bit of flour coating and lightly boiled. Once they have sunk to the bottom of the pan and then floated to the top, they are gently simmered for a short time. They are lifted out and drained of water and tossed into to your favorite sauce, and voila`, springtime is served up.
Stinging Nettles in the wild
Naturally, I took a turn and headed for the garden and after pulling a copious amount of stinging nettles from between my currant and raspberry canes, I became inspired to swap out the nettles for the spinach and use rice instead of wheat flour to make them suitable for celiacs or gluten intolerant folks. The way these are boiled by gently dropping them into the water, where they promptly sink, and then waiting for them to come bobbing back up to the surface and simmer just ever so slightly, is reminiscent to me of our beloved northern gnocchi. It's the same cooking method and determination for doneness. For this subtly flavored wild green, that loses its ferocious sting once it is cooked, I used a simple butter, walnut and chicken stock combination to showcase and elevate the nettle flavor as well as add the Piemontese favored walnut for added texture. It all worked very well I think.  
Italians are very fond of stinging nettles or "ortiche" as they are called in Italian and are liberally used in soups, tea, pasta, crepes and any  filling that would use spinach. They are purported to have a fair amount of health benefits, such as helping to reduce hypertension, and asthma,  relieve arthritis and menopause, encourage milk production in lactating women, break down kidney stones, and help with diabetes, just to name a few. Maybe it does or doesn't do these things, but they are tasty and a change from your regular spinach consumption. 
Please note.
While I do recommend that you give these a try when you find some nettles that haven't gotten too old or gone to seed, if possible. The younger plants flavor is mild like spinach, but do be forewarned, they sting like the dickens, so wear protective gloves and maybe even long sleeves when picking them and kitchen gloves when cleaning them. *When cleaning them, give them a thorough water rinse, using a good slug of vinegar if you want to make sure and get them thoroughly clean, and don't forget to wear your kitchen glove.  Drain and sauté them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter till they wilt , adding a bit of water so that they cooked through. Squeeze them dry before chopping and adding them to the ricotta. If you aren't able to find any nettles or aren't so adventuresome, then by all means, replace the nettles with an equal amount of spinach.

There are a number of recipes you can find online, but I modified and put my own spin on Barbara Elisi's recipe that you will find here.  

Stinging Nettle and Ricotta Ravioli Gnudi


250 g (9 oz) ricotta (drained by setting on a sieve or strainer)

250 g (9 oz) fresh nettles (*cleaned, see note above, cooked, drained, squeezed dry and chopped)

1 egg, medium

100 g / 1/2 generous cup, Parmesan cheese, grated

1 or 2 T of rice flour ( if the dough looks too soft add a tablespoon or two)

1-2 T  olive oil or butter to sauté the greens

Rice flour ( for rolling the formed balls in before simmering in water)


Wear gloves to pick and clean the nettles
Weed your garden or find a patch of nettles and pick a goodly amount of nettles to bring home and clean. 

  • Set the ricotta in a strainer to drain the water off. 
  • Strip the leaves from the stalks, discarding the stalks and place in a bowl and cover with fresh water and swish around letting set to let debris fall to the bottom of the bowl. 
  • Discard and repeat the process till the greens are clean, as mentioned above. Drain the greens of water.
  • Sauté in a small amount of oil or butter till wilted and cooked.
  • Squeeze dry (gloves not really necessary now)
  • Chop the greens small.
Once all the ingredients are ready,

  • Whisk the egg lightly in a medium bowl and add the ricotta and nettles and mix lightly just to combine.
  • Add rice flour if you find the batter too soft to manage.
  • Fill a roomy pasta sized cooking pot full of salted water to a boil.
  • Using a teaspoon or your hands and drop small amounts of your mixture onto a rice floured surface or drop rounded  nettle ricotta balls into a small bowl with rice flour and roll around to shape into balls and coat with the flour. 
  • Set the coated balls aside until your water is boiling and your sauce is ready to go.
  • Roll the batter spoonfuls into the flour and then 
  • Drop into the boiling water. 
  • When the gnudi emerge on the surface of the water, boil a further 1 minute or so and
  • Gently drain with a skimmer. 
Combine with Walnut Butter Sauce sauce and serve.

Butter Walnut sauce: 

100g butter (sometimes I use less butter and add a bit of chicken or veggie stock to lighten it up )
200 g walnut, rough chopped medium
Melt your butter and add you r chopped walnuts and cook lightly till bubbly.
Add your hot cooked ravioli gnudi.

Mix to coat and serve hot with a generous grating of Parmesan on top.

Ricottan and Nettles mixed

All rolled in rice flour and waiting to be boiked
Ready to go into the sauce
Voila' Nettle Ravioli gnudi is served

01 April 2015

Winter Gifts from the Garden: Savoy Cabbage and Cheesy Potato Bake Recipe

Savoy Cabbage Layered with Taleggio Cheese and Potatoes
It is finally spring and for those of us in the mountains it comes just a tad later than it does for most folks. I still have ample supplies of some of our winter staples like potatoes and savoy cabbage that we are using for a delicious result these days before all the spring delicacies take over. I thought I would share one of my favorite dishes combining these pantry staples. I am sure most of you are thinking of Easter with asparagus and peas and those sorts of veggies, but we are still having cooler temperatures here and sounds like we are not the only ones and this dish is one that I think is sure to please as it has just the right amount of comfort foodiness to it. Let me know if you agree.  
I made it the traditional way the first time in an oven proof pan in the oven and it was like a variation of scalloped potatoes, which will always make me think of my mom and growing up in southern Illinois. I added some parma ham once when I had some that need to be used up and I had some mozzarella as my only cheese, which worked out well with the ham giving it some needed salty element to the dish. I naturally have used all sorts of local cheeses because this is a recipe that lends itself to variations and innovation, so by all means feel free to add your own special touch.  My latest change has been to make it in a skillet on top of the stove without turning the oven on to great success. I do miss that crispy top crunch, but not enough not to make it when the oven is not part of the plan. This recipe is based on Antonio Carluccio's recipe that he used for one of his Italian sojourns that featured Piedmont. By chance it was one of the possible entertainment selections that was on offer on my flight back from the U.S. a few years back.  It was a great episode and a great reminder of a dish that is comforting to anyone and especially those of us from the former kingdom of  Savoie, where Savoy cabbage hails from. 

Savoy Cabbage from our garden and the stove top version 
Oh yes and if you are not familiar with Savoy cabbage, it is the one that is green and wrinkly. I find it to be mild and tender and certainly one of my favorites. It hails from this part of Europe and is a winter time favorite as it will keep under the snow for when you are ready to harvest it when needed. My in laws have always kept some all winter for not only our eating pleasure but also for salad for the chickens when she used to keep them. We aren't the only ones who like some greens in the winter. You can make this dish with regular smooth cabbage as well it just is a slighty different flavor and texture, but it will be almost as good, so do try and find the savoy cabbage if you can. but don't not make it if you can't.
I thought I would also share with you a little video I put together from our harvesting of the last of our cabbages a few weeks ago. We still have patches of snow dotted around now, but the "foehn" (warm strong) winds that have been howling for the past few days have helped the big patches evaporate rather quickly.   

This is me filming Fabrizio harvesting our Savoy cabbage a few weeks ago.  I hope you enjoy my second attempt at making a movie from my videos.

Savoy Cabbage and Potato Bake

(Cavolo Piemontese con Patate)

Serves 4


650g / 1 1/2 lb Savoy cabbage, cut out the tough main rib* of the leaves leaving two halves of the leaves.
8 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (medium sized floury potatos, although red ones will work as well)
300g / 10oz Taleggio cheese, thinly sliced (or any other melty cheese, fontina, mozzarella and a little parmesan)
Some grated Parmigiano cheese to sprinkle on top and maybe between layers if you are using mozzarella
150g / 51⁄2oz butter for greasing your pans ( I didn't use it when I finished it in the skillet, although I did use a bit of olive oil.
black pepper, freshly ground
**I have added a layer of prosciutto crudo on occasion and used mozzarella and liked the results

  • Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F.
  • Boil some slightly salted water in a sauce pan. 
  • Cook the potatoes for about three minutes,in the salted water, then scoop the potatoes out with a large slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Plunge into cold water if you want to hurry them along and make them easier to handle when layering.
  • Cook the cabbage for about five minutes in the same potato water until tender. Drain well*.
*You can retain the cut out cabbage rib and the boiling water for a soup if desired or you might want to use it for adding a bit of moisture to your dish as it cooks if needed or dispose of both as you see fit.

You can finish this dish in two different ways. 
  • You will layer the cabbage, potatoes, cheese in a ovenproof pan or skillet depending on how you prefer to finish cooking this dish.
  • The original recipe calls for baking it in a 9"/ 23 cm(approximately) oven proof pan, which will give you a nice crispy top when you bake it.
  • You can also layer it all in a skillet and cook it gently covered adding milk or your leftover boiling water if needed, till all is bubbly and cooked through. 
  • Grease the ovenproof dish generously with some of the butter.
  • Arrange half of the potato slices, slightly overlapping, on the bottom of the dish, dot with some more butter
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Arrange the cabbage and half of the cheese on top of the potatoes 
  • Season with salt and pepper. 
  • Top with the remaining potatoes and cheese. 
  • Dot with the remaining butter.
  • A generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese is a nice finish as well

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes, removing the foil five minutes before the end of the cooking time. Remove from the oven and serve.
Or cover your skillet with a lid and gently simmer on top of the stove until all is soft and smooth through. If you find the dish is too soupy, you can uncover it for a bit to evaporate some of the liquid. If too dry add some liquid as needed when cooking. 
I have made it both ways and enjoyed both. Sometimes you just don't have enough reason to want to turn on the oven and I am happy with the stove top results too. 

Hope you enjoy this dish.
Her's a stovetop version I served with some chicken strips I made

Hope you and yours will enjoy this hearty Piemontese dish. From our home to yours!

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