07 February 2016

Baccala, or Salt Cod, Like Nonna Maria Use to Make

Baccala alla Nonna Maria da Venezia

Italians are crazy about Merluzzo Baccala or Salt Cod as it is known in English. You will find it all over in the markets here in the winter especially. Most cod comes from Norway, where the cod is found and fished in the icy waters of the northern seas. They say that it was originally just air dried, but as salt became more readily available and cheap, it became the preferred way to keep the bounty of fish. this method of preservation meant that the fish was easily transported and kept well for at least a couple of years. Baccala  then came to southern Europe where it became very popular and still is, especially for the Catholic countries that use to observe not eating meat on Friday and during Lent. Even though times have changed and the Catholic edict to eat fish on Friday is no longer in existence, salt cod is loved and served regularly in many various preparations. 
The recipe I am sharing today is something I recreated from a dish that Fabrizio's maternal grandmother, Maria, use to make him when he was young and some suggestions I saw on an  Italian TV cooking show.  Nonna Maria  was born and grew up in the Veneto, which is the province that Venice is located in and famous for its love of fish dishes. Nonna Maria once worked as a cook and house keeper for a wealthy family before she married Fabrizio's maternal grandfather, who was born in an old stone house over by where our garden is today. She was known to be a very good cook and is where Fabrizio's mother learned to cook before Fabrizio's parents pursued their dream to open "La Baita" restaurant here back in the 60's.
As they were getting the business built and established, Fabrizio stayed with both sets of grandparents to keep him out from under their busy feet, so he has lots of fond memories of Nonna's cooking. When I served him my version awhile back, he complimented me saying it was just like what Nonna Maria made. I like that kind of compliment. it makes me feel proud to recreate a flavor from his childhood and one I now love as well.
Merluzzo Baccala - Salt Cod
Just like most Italian recipes, this one is a little loose on exact amounts,  quite easy to make and oh so delicious. I tend to make it to fit my cast iron skillet, that my grandmother and mother did a lot of cooking in too. So this is a nostalgic dish that touches a lot of buttons. So relax and don't worry too much about the amounts, just put it together and either bake it in the oven or cook it on top of the stove like I did. In the end I thought it was a lot easier and true to the fact that Italians are not quick to turn on the oven and make most everything on top of the stove, I thought it worked just fine. Feel free to choose your favorite way, oven or stove. 
Finished dish

Baccala alla Nonna Maria da Venezia

Serves 2 hungry people


500g /1 # salted cod, soaked in cold water for at least 24 hours days, changing the water at least 3 times over the soaking time. 
1 medium to large onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, diced enough for flavor but not enough to overpower
2 medium to largish potatoes, your favorite variety, a somewhat floury potato is good, peeled or not as you like but scrubbed and sliced in to thin rounds. I like them about 1/8 inch or 1/4cm thick so that they don't take too long to cook.
250 - 325ml / 1- 1 1/2 c. milk, as needed. You can use all milk, or half and half, single cream and a heavy splash of heavy cream with the milk for richness if you like
1-2 T Olive oil
1 Bay leaf


Heat a heavy  9 inch or 24 cm sauté pan slowly.   
Prepare your cod by pulling any long pieces of bone that might still be in the fish and peel the skin off. 
Slice fish into thin slices by holding the knife at an angle and cut at an angle to the table. This should make thin slices. Don't worry if the fish crumbles some. 
Thinly slice the washed potatoes with or without peels. 
Once you have all of your ingredients assembled and prepared, begin to sauté the diced onion and garlic. 
Add the bay leaf.
Once the onion has begun to turn translucent, lay slices of fish in a single layer on top of the onions and garlic. 
Next cover the fish and onions completely with the potato slices.
Pour the milk or milk and cream combination over the whole top of the potatoes. 
Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with black pepper and paprika. 
Cover the top and cook over low heat till all is bully and the potatoes are done. 
Remove the top if it seems too soupy and you want to reduce the liquid some or if the m ix seems too dry before the potatoes are cooked, then a dad bit more milk. 
You can also cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake it in a moderate oven till all os bubbly. Remove the foil and let the top brown up if you like. 
Serve while hot. 
Ingredients, Layering the pan, Milk added and Paprika dusted, Cooked

25 January 2016

New Post for a New Year - Nearby Manta Castle

Manta Castle
Here it is past the middle of January and time's awasting.  I must make haste to keep up with some very modest goals I have set forth for myself and my blog for this year. I noticed that when I was writing a roundup of things to do in this area on my last post, that there were many interesting attractions noticeably missing from my lists.  I have been meaning to get around to writing about a few of them for a long tim. Others I thought I already had written up, but couldn't locate them perusing through my back posts, so I thought I would make it a goal to post a least once a month about some of the local attractions that we send our guests off to see and usually have taken in ourselves at least once if not a few times.
One such glaring omission is splendid Manta Castle (Castello di Manta), just past and overlooking the charming town of Saluzzo that sits where the base of the Cottian Alps (Alpi Cozie) and Po river plains unite, in the neighboring province of Cuneo.
Monviso of the Cottian Alps meets the Po river plains
Manta boasts a small castle perched on its hillside that has been returned to its former glory when the Lords of Saluzzo called it their home. The original building dates back to the 12th century and over the years the building grew with expansions and richly decorate with various additions of masterful and fantastical frescos whose handiwork still remains anonymous.  The current family descendants  enlisted the help of Italy's preservation society, FAI to help raise funds to restore the deteriorated  paintings, replace furnishings that had disappeared over the centuries and breath life back into the castle. These frescos are said to be a rare treasure of late gothic paintings still found in northern Italy. They really are worth a visit as they are so well preserved and magnificently interesting.
Héros, Heroines, and the Fountain of Youth Frescos
In addition to the main castle they have also restore an adjacent church and plans to continue to restore other surrounding buildings in the neighborhood. They really have done a fine job. I especially like that included with the very modest entrance fee of around €7.50 adults and €3.00 for children (2016 prices) is the use of complimentary headphones to insure you get the most out of your self guided visit. There are a number of different languages offered and they do periodically update the narration to reflect the ongoing historical discoveries or completion of nearby ongoing projects. 
Manta Castles' Church
 The castle is of a manageable size so that it makes for a great half day visit and suitable for children, who will enjoy the artifacts and furnishings as it is not only the paintings and church that are of interest. Nearby Saluzzo is another great place to stop also for a bit of shopping, sight seeing or eating, naturally. The grounds are peaceful and would make for a lovely picnic setting. You can also walk up through the woods or park closer and take a more direct route.
Castle life
Whatever you do, when you find yourself in northern Italy, you will want to make sure and not miss out on this local treasure, when you visit our slice of Piedmont, preferably when you come and stay with us.  We'll be waiting for you with many more suggestions.

The castle is open Tuesdays - Sunday, closed Mondays (unless it is a holiday in which they say they are open. Always good to check)
10:00 - 18:00 March 1 through the end of September and
10:00 - 17:00 October through 27 of November.
Last entrance 1/2 before closing
Closed December through February.

Directions to Castello di Manta from Bella Baita B&B and Italian Alps Retreat

31 December 2015

Out with 2015 and Benvenuto 2016

Part of our Bella Baita view
Greetings from the Italian Alps. 
2015 is rapidly coming to a close and 2016 is not far ahead. We' re happy to say that we've had a superb year here at Bella Baita. After a couple of quieter years, it seems people decided to move around for their holidays this  summer and we were delighted that many decided to come our way.
Monviso on the horizon on the way to Bella Baita
We enjoyed  "Cooking Together"  with some of our guests, as we offer cooking lessons for everyone. and we always enjoy our forays to the Pinerolo market on Wednesday or Saturday, when we aren't foraging from our garden.
Family group lesson

Some things I made

Garden gifts
Market Tomatoes

Cutting Parmigiano cheese to order. 
We also had some folks that enjoyed learning about our local wines while they sipped and sample the local wine whilst learning about our traditions here.
Wine tasting in the garden
There were walk ins in the mountains, excursions out and about, meals together in the evenings and making new friends and in some cases reuniting with old friends. All in all it is good to be here in the mountains and be able to open our home, share our cuisine, wine, neighborhood, culture and passion for Piedmont with all whom stop in. We hope that your coming year is a blessed one and perhaps you might come and visit with us and share in some of our adventures this coming 2016. 
I've listed a few links below to some other articles I have written about other things there are to do in the area that you might find of interest. 
Happy reading and exploring our Piemonte mountains here in Val Chisone.
Happy New Year to all our friends and all our friends we haven't met yet.

 Articles about Points of interest close to Val Chisone

From our Home to yours, Buon Anno  or Happy New Year 2016!
Bella Baita in the Snow last January 2015

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
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