Saturday, January 24, 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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Something Old, New and a Homemade Orecchiette Recipe

We are well on our way into a new year, 2015,  and yet at this time of the year I often find myself looking backwards as well as forward.  When Jennifer of  the blog "Vino Travels ~ An Italian Wine Blog & Luxury Tours to Italy", recently contacted me about collaborating on a wine pairing event that would be featuring one of  Puglia's famous wines, Negroamaro, Gaglioppo or Primitivo, a dinner made for us by friends from Bari, a few years back, sprang to mind, "Braciole"* and Orecchiette pasta. (* Braciole translates to chop and usually refers to pork chops, especially in the north of Italy, but in Puglia it refers to a meat roll cooked in a tomato sauce. The meat can be pork, beef, or even horse)This dish was made for us by some friends that we met during the lead up to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games that were held in our area. We became friendly with some of the workers that came up from south Italy with their company to build the two tunnels that helped ease some of the congestion of the traffic on our road that leads up to Sestriere and where several of the venues for the games were held. This group of tunnel makers were made up of two groups, one from Bari in Puglia, and the other from Sicily. We had helped them out with a variety of things that come up when you work far away from your home and friendly faces are always appreciated. They had an impromptu home leave break when the winter weather made working on the tunnels impossible for a few days, so off they went back home. The tunnel project took  over two years to complete prior to the commencement to the games, so they were away from home for quite a while. 
Baldassini tunnel workers on the day they broke through on the second tunnel

Once they returned from their break, they asked if they could make us a traditional Pugliese dinner. Sounded good to me. I love eating other peoples cooking especially when they are so keen to share their regional cooking with us. When they treated us to dinner, we discovered that they each had all brought back different treats from home. One brought his family's olive oil pressed from trees that were over three hundred years old, home made Pugliese wine, Sicilian desserts and hand made orecchiette by one of their wives. What a special dinner that was. It was fun to watch them prepare everything and then all sit together for a special meal. A dear friend of mine from college days along with her daughter just happened to be visiting when this dinner came together, so we had a cozy full house in our intimate dining room. That meal still lingers in my memory and the revelation of how wonderful hand made pasta is I can also manage to savor. So naturally I just had to try and recreate this dish. 

Fabrizio and chef for a night Guiseppe and the whole Baldassini gang and my southern Illinois friends for the special dinner
This traditional dish is a typical Sunday family dinner where the meat is cooked in a rich tomato sauce. Orecchiette has been made earlier and left to dry before marrying it up with the sauce that the meat was cooked in.  This recipe is what I like to call a two for one recipe; two dishes made from one source.  If you make the pasta as opposed to buying dried pasta, then it will be a little more labor intensive, worthy of a big Sunday family dinner, however, If you buy dried orecchiette, this comes together quite easily for any day of the week. Do try it and pair it up with a Primitivo if you can find it, or if all else fails, try a California Zinafindel (not a rose' but a rich fruity red) that will transform this into an unforgettable memory whenever you wish. 
A pictorial tour of my version using home canned passata and conserva (tomato sauce and paste)
My hand made orecchiette, or little ears

Meat rolls and Orecchiette Pasta with Sauce 
Braciole e l'Orecchiette con Sugo
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
6 thin beef or pork steaks,* 
6 squares of firm pecora cheese, or other firm cheese, optional. I used caciocavallo. 
6 garlic cloves, minced and divided for sauce and inside the meat rolls, (adjust amount to your taste, as this is Giuseppe's strong garlicky version. He actually used a lot more)
1 large carrot, diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1 large bottle or jar of tomato sauce
1 T tomato paste 
2 tsp mix of thyme, oregano or any blend you like. 
1 bay leaf
slash of dry white wine, optional i used water as i didn't have any wine available
dash dried hot red pepper  
Olive oil

Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, grated to garnish the finished dish

600-800g / 1.5- 1.75 lb dried orecchiette pasta
or 
Homemade orecchiette recipe and video below*

Cooked  green vegetable to go with your meat rolls or salad 

Preparation:
Lay steaks flat and place a generous amount of minced garlic toward one end of the steak. You can make this with just a thick chunk of cheese or a combination of both. 
Pull and fold over both sides of the length of the steak towards the center.
Bring the one end over so the contents are enclosed and roll up. Secure with a toothpick.
In a sauce pan or large skillet with tall sides place your oil and begin to heat. 
Add the carrot and celery and begin to saute' until fragrant. 
Add the remainder of your garlic.
Add dried herbs and bay leaf.
Stir to distribute and place your meat rolls in the pan.
Saute' lightly on all sides to pick up color. 
Deglaze your pan with a little white wine if desired. 
Let the alcohol evaporate and add the tomato sauce and paste.
Cover and cook for about 15 minutes. 
Remove meat rolls and let the sauce simmer a while longer adding a bit of water if it cooks down too much. You want an nice thick sauce that has let all the flavors meld together. Perhaps 30-40 minutes tops. 

*Cooks Notes* Thin cut beef steaks are from the rump of the cow, most likely a round steak, here they have a large roast piece of meat and slice thin slices about 1/4 or slightly thicker slices. Ask your butcher for suggestions. If using pork, a pork cutlet with  little bit of fat is nice as well. 

*If making home made orecchiette pasta, make it first so that the pasta has time to dry before cooking. You can make the pasta a day or several before also. Just make sure to keep the pasta dry and they will need to cook slightly longer than the fresh pasta. 

Amount per person is about 2 1/2 oz / 80g per person so you can adjust according
(Note* home made pasta usually goes down quite easy)


Orecchiette Pasta :
 6 ish portions

500 g / 18 oz semolina flour  or semolina
200-250g / 6.5-8 oz  water, warm to hot 

Make a mound of flour and hollow out the middle to make a well. 
Add some water and begin mix with your your fingers like a mixer.
Add more water and mix until you get a solid, yet soft dough. 
Work the dough as you would bread to get a smooth dough that has developed the gluten. 
Once you have the dough developed and smooth, Set aside and either cover with a bowl that you weighed your flour in or a piece of plastic to allow the dough to relax, but not to dry out.
Set aside for about 15 minutes. 

Cut your dough as you need it , ultimately in about 8 -10 pieces. 
If you have a wooden surface to work on, that is the best surface for making pasta dough. 
Take one piece of dough, leaving the others covered while you roll out a long thin snake of dough.
Roll out the dough with your hands on top of the dough laid flat on the work surface. Gently roll the dough into a long piece about 1/4-1/2" thickness, depending on how large you want your "ears" to be.
Once rolled out, Take a butter knife or small pallet knife and cut the dough off into about a nickel sized portion. 
With your flat edge of the knife drag the knife from one side of the dough across to the other applying steady pressure so that the dough crawls up and curves over. Pick the piece up and unroll it if need be and fold it opposite of the way it tried to roll up, so that it forms a cup. 
Lay them side by side on a plate or wooden surface that has been sprinkled with semolina to dry till they are not sticky to the touch. Feel free to sprinkle a bit of semolina over the tops as well if you need them to dry up a bit more.  Avoid making these on very humid days as it is with most home made pasta.  continue on with all of the pieces of dough till you are all done. 
Go back and make you meat rolls and sauce while your pasta dries. 

If you watch some of the ladies of Bari making them they have a two stroke method that I have yet to master, but certainly will be striving for.  Like many things it just takes a lot of practice. 
I am going to add a  little video that I made to practice not only my orecchiette skills but also my video skills as well. Hope you like it. 

Finishing and serving:
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Add the fresh pasta and boil gently till cooked to your preference. Normally it only takes a few minutes like 4-6 unless they are very dry or very thick. 
If using dry store pasta follow the directions on the package for the timing. 

While the water is coming to a boil, put the meat rolls back into your sauce and heat the sauce and meat rolls back up so that everything is piping hot.
Remove meat and set aside, keeping them warm somewhere till you are ready to serve them after the pasta course.
Drain your pasta, add to the sauce and toss to coat the pasta. 
Serve immediately, garnishing with the grated cheese to taste.  

Serve your meat rolls with a vegetable side dish or salad of choice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Catching the "Slow Food Movement" Train


You would think I would have run out of things to talk about concerning "Slow Food" by now wouldn't you; but you would be wrong.   I have only scratched the surface in these first couple of articles of the breadth and depth of this movement. This article is about what the Slow Food movement is really doing besides eating. My post today coincides with Terre Madre Day 2014.  More on Terra Madre later on.

This third article is an overview of  what I think of as the heart and soul of Slow Food and links to follow up and learn more. This is about the people that are "Slow Food",  their concerns, the networking, the ideas and solutions to preserving and conserving and most of all protecting and sharing.  It's about connection with our food, our earth and each other in a way that meets in many places and ways, but usually ending up at the table together to eat. It is also a call to join in the conversation whether or not you get involved with the formal organization or not, you can make choices that supports the small farmer and protects our environment. If you do join in,  you will meet like minded people working towards a more equitable world and a better connection to our food and how it arrives at our table, hopefully doing as little harm as possible and hopefully maximizing the number of people around that table. First I will give you a brief run down of the organization of the movement, an overview of what it does, and them some of the highlights for me of my "Salone del Gusto / Terre Madre" experience this year.
The Slow Food's grassroots movement is organized into many networks of local and international  groups. The main networks are described below.  You can learn more about each of these groups at this link to the Slow Food website. Below are some direct quotes from their site.

Slow Food International is:

  1. Network of members with over 1,500 local "convivia" chapters located throughout the world
  2. Terra Madre Network is an international network of food communities - groups of small-scale producers and others united by the production of a particular food and closely linked to a geographic area."
  3. The Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) is a worldwide network of young people creating a better future through food.
  4. The University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) came to being in 2004, becoming the first university of its kind and offering a holistic approach to food studies. 

The division of  what Slow Food International's main focus of action can be described as the following:

  • Defending Food Biodiversity: "coordinate projects that defend local food traditions, protect food communities, preserve food biodiversity and promote quality artisanal products..." These are some of their projects.
  1. "Presidia – Working with groups of small-scale producers to sustain quality food productions at risk of extinction in over 400 projects...
  2. The Ark of Taste – Cataloging endangered traditional foods: an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meats... 
  3. Earth Markets – Building an international network of farmers’ markets that promote good, clean and fair food… 
  4. The Alliance of Chefs - Uniting over 300 chefs with local small-scale producers…
  5. 10,000 Gardens in Africa – Our plan to create 10,000 food gardens across the continent; in schools, villages and the outskirts of cities…
  6. Narrative labels - Going beyond legal labeling requirements to provide the whole story of a product..."
  • Food and Taste Education
  • International events to facilitate defending biodiversity, education and promoting networking.
All of these actions are carried out through the various networks.
Terra Madre Opening Ceremonies and Delegates in Turin October 2014

The "Salone del Gusto / Terra Madre" 5 day event that is held every two years  in Turin, Italy and arguably its largest and main international event that Slow Food hosts kicked off to an exciting start.
The opening ceremonies were held in Turin's Palasport Alpitour Stadium was a fitting venue, as it was used during the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic games and this slow food event had all the excitement and feel of being the Olympics of Food.  Representatives from the 3,000 strong Terra Madre delegates  paraded colorful national flags and often native costumes  from 158 nations just like an Olympic ceremony. There was music and a wide variety of speeches from Slow Food Founders and organizers, stories of success from the Terra Madre and Youth Network as well as challenges facing  Indigenous and other Terra Madre groups throughout the world. Every continent was presented with a voice to add to the conversation of food and how it is produced and used. This years theme being the Family Farm to coincide with the United Nations' 2014 International Year of the Family Farm. Other highlights were a video message from Michelle Obama thanking everyone for what they are doing to promote healthy eating and nutrition, as well as raising awareness of the issues across the globe." Pope Francis sent a letter stating that "no one should be without sufficient food." After all the speeches, Terra Madre representatives of the 3,000 strong delegates, from 158 countries,
paraded with colorful national flags and some native costumes. It was exciting, moving and impossible not to catch  the enthusiasm and energy that night. It lasted through out the whole of the 5 days for me.
International Market - Youth Network- University of Gastronomic Sciences-Ark of Taste Pavillion
Whilst attending this year, I tried to sample even more events than I usually do, as there are so many diverse speakers, workshops, cooking classes, forums and discussions. Many diverse voices from chefs, farmers, food activists to scientists, all with varying viewpoints that added to the varied and multi layered  conversations going on. It was difficult to choose what to attend everyday with over 40 events going on as well as the market places and general sights and sounds.  It is a sensory overload and for me, not to be missed.
Ark of Taste- Cataloguing Endangered Food Species
The Ark of Taste  project and display, which was fashioned to look like an ark, continued to grow over the 5 days as people brought food or photos of food that were special to their home or heritage that seem to be at risk of disappearing. One of our neighbors from Grandubbione brought some apples to add and register on the ark. I love that. It was fascinating to see so many different foods, some I certainly have never seen or heard of. It was touching to to hear peoples stories because food is one thing that unites us as humans, the need to eat and the desire to share food, love and fellowship. There was a lot of activity in this area as the BBC Radio 4 came this year and set up an impromptu studio and began to recored  peoples stories about the food they were bringing to the ark. They will be broad casting these stories next year on one of their longest running programs, simply named the "Food Programm". I found it through their website and subscribed to their podcast via iTunes. I was able to down load their excellent introductory story here if you would like to listen to an excellent 3o minute program about their project and experience this year. 
Follow this link to their program Terra Madre 16 Nov 14.  You can also view many of these Ark food projects on Google's Cultural Institute . A very interesting site to discover.
Several Presidia Piemontese cheeses, salami and Lazio's Valpietra beans that I sampled at a taste workshop

The Presidia is another International Slow Food project to save and protect species of native plants and animal breeds from extinction as they are usually no longer viable economically as the world globalizes and dictates what foods are available to us.  The Presidia seeks to identify, protect and sustain ecosystems and traditional methods of production and economic pathways to keep our foods and livelihoods diversified and vibrant.  I attended one Taste Workshop out of 107 offerings, that was entitled,
"Noble Indigenous Legumes, Extra Virgin Oils and Lazio Wines". It was a fascinating presentation. We sampled beans that were almost forgotten bout from several small villages in the Lazio region of Italy, some that had almost been abandoned but had seen a small return of families with a desire to grow their local beans and sell them in order to preserve them from extinction and to provide a modest income. We sampled black lentils and 2 types of white beans that were incredible in their simplicity and yet so intriguing in their flavor. The various olive oils from the Lazio region made different combinations to be delicious discoveries with such a simple flavor palette. Of course the wines paired nicely with all, but it was the creaminess of the beans and pure flavorfulness that continues to flick through my food memory. I like beans, but not normally large dry ones, but this giant one was so perfectly cooked, firm and intact with the creamiest of interiors.I read too that the rockiness of the soil where they are grown contributes to the thin outer skins. Aha,  that is one of the things I usually am not crazy about is the tough outer skins. I had never really paid that much attention to a bean before. Hearing the farmers talk of how they only had 80 people in their village and hoped they would be able to produce and sell enough to continue on their life in their beautiful Valpietra, (valley of stone) made me determined that I found their booth to purchase some beans the next day to enjoy their deliciousness again in the future. I have a couple of small bags, that I am hoarding for just the right moment this winter when their creaminess will transport me back to their stories and imaginings of life in their village.
Earth Defenders - Lavazza's Calendar Project to Benefit "10,000 Gardens for Africa"

And yet another interesting project executed by Slow Food Partner and Turin's own Lavazza Coffee.
is their 2015 Calendar "The Earth Defenders" project. Lavazza became more involved with Africa in 2002 with their Tierra sustainable coffee project to improve environmental,  social and production conditions for small scale coffee farmers. They have been working with photographer Steve McCurry since that project to capture and document this part of their partner ship with coffee growers. The 2015 Calendar showcases everyday people in Africa that work daily to protect their food and way of life. You can learn more about each of these peoples lives and projects that they are working on in their communities to improve lives and protect their communities at this link. The proceeds of this years calendar will go to Slow Food's "10,000 Gardens for Africa" initiative. All of the people featured on the calendar are involved with various community projects that they have initiated or oversee. they are all involved with Slow Food through Terra Madre, The Youth Network, Ark of Taste, Presidium and many other branches of Slow Food. they all have compelling stories and interesting projects to put forwards. These photos tell much about their lives, home and livelihood. 
Rob Bulga of the nomadic camel herding tribe Karrayyu of Ethiopia
Earth Defender, Roba Bulga, an Ethiopian of the Karrayyu tribe of nomadic camel herders, spoke at the opening ceremonies about his involvement in setting up a cooperative of camel herders to sell their camel milk and the positive impact of this Presidium, coordinated by the Labate Fantalle NGO. Roba got involved with the first Terra Madre event in 2004 working first as a translator and was a founding member of the Labate Fantalle NGO. He has represented his tribe in several international conferences and been the subject of a documentary "Jeans and Marto"  about his story and struggles of his tribe. He is a graduate of Addis Ababa in foreign languages and literature was well as a masters from Slow Foods University of Gastronomic Sciences here in Italy and has returned to his home to work for Slow Food and the way forward for his country and his people. He is a very inspiring young man, and so many others like him with their own unique stories and voices that add so much to the conversation. I enjoyed meeting him at the Ethiopian booth the first day after he spoke at the opening ceremonies. I know he will accomplish much more as he has done so much already in his young life. Go Roba and the Karrayyu people!
Marla Gulley with  Roba Bulga
It was my greatest pleasure to attend the conference "Teaching Slow Food Values in a Fast Food World". These three influential people of this conference are ones that I have admired for many years for their ability to stand up and be heard about our food, how it is produced, what we are actually being served and the myriad of duplicities that the food industry has put forward over the years. Italian Carlo Petrini, founder and President of Slow Food International, has written many books on the subject of food and its politics, as well as leading the charge to promote transparency in our world food system, to protect and promote, small farms, food systems, the diversity our planet produces, whose very way of life are rapidly disappearing as we march towards a "one size fits all" approach to food. Well known American Chef of Chez Panisse fame and food activist Alice Waters, is Vice President of Slow Food International. She was instrumental in raising awareness of the plight of the American small farmers and encouraging People to buy and eat local foods. She also created the ""Edible Schoolyard Project", first in her home state of California to reintroduce a connection and education to food and where it comes from back into the educational program of children. The third panelist rounded out the discussion was English chef, cookbook author and food activist Jamie Oliver.  I first became aware of Jamie when he was a young, up and coming television chef when I first began to work for a British travel company. I liked his enthusiasm and boyish charm but never really took more than a passing interest in his career until he began to make a name for himself with his various philanthropic endeavors through his Jamie Oliver Foundation.  In particular I like his 15 Apprentice program that found mainly disengaged young people and gives them a chance for a career in the restaurant and food business by training them in an apprenticeship program for real skills to succeed and even possible opportunity in his 15 Restaurants in London and Birmingham. His taking on the challenge of the British school lunch program earned him a high profile and a serious voice that will not be silent. I like that. 
So with all three of these people presenting their projects and ideas during this lively discussion, it was a riveting couple of hours. They all agreed that there is much to do.  Alice spoke of having a moral obligation to feed children real food, but we are trapped in a fast food world. Carlo urged young people to get involved in changing the food system that has reached a tipping point. and Jamie ignited the the call to action by stating, “the enemy is very rich and strategic, they employ the cleverest minds and they’re well dug in." "We’re in a very damaging time as far as child health is concerned. There is not just one thing we can do to change the situation. This is an ambush,” Jamie added. “This is about coming together, not one voice, but a choir… we have to work as a team.”
 One thing is clear our food system is in need of change. We can no longer stand by and trust our governments to fix it for us. This is a call to action for everyone to get involved locally in reclaiming our food heritage and protect the earth that supports us, in whatever way seems appropriate for your neighborhood. We must be bold even if it means shaming big business and governments into doing what is right for our health, our economy, our planet and most of all our children futures. Look around and find what you can do, even if it is being more thoughtful and discerning in your food choices. Going groups like Slow Food with put you in touch with other like minded people, because together we can make a difference
Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver, moderator Corby Kummer and Carlo Petrini Conference on Slow Food in a Fast Food World

I hope you enjoyed my articles and I thank you for reading them. Naturally these are purely my opinions and impressions of Slow Food Movement, Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. I am not official  connected to Slow Food, other than my affinity to their values.
Marla Gulley December 2014 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Salone del Gusto / Terra Madre 2014 - The Marketplace and Dinner Dates


In my last posting I tried to give a condensed overview and explanation of what "Slow Food" is exactly, at least from my perspective. You can of course go over to their website and have a nosy around to suit yourself, of course. As it is a concept and a movement then there are not only many interpretations as to what that means, but it also means that there are many directions that this multi faceted organization could and has gone.


The first and most obvious direction was to recognize the multitude of small farmers and food producers that are, not only the backbone of food production here in Italy and worldwide as well, but are often an almost hidden part of the economy that needs and deserves to have more light shown on them.  Italy has done pretty well over the years to cultivate an awareness of traditional foods and methods of making products that were maybe once everyday products that have now become artisanal as they have been overshadowed by the enormous companies that dominate the food landscape. You can find many programs on TV that go around Italy seeking out small family farms and artisanal producers and focuses on their foods and lifestyle and community as part of travelogues here in Italy. I must say it is a tradition that I have noticed and greatly admired since I have lived here. 

"Slow Food" has built on that tradition and in 1996 they organized the first "Salone del Gusto" (roughly translated as an exhibition of taste or flavor)  in Turin "dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high quality products."  This food fair has been built on the platform of an Italian and International marketplace for showcasing, sampling and purchasing what the exhibitors have brought to this biennial event. Held in the historical old Fiat factory building, called the Lingotto, it is an enormous sprawling showplace that offers an overwhelming sensory experience. The event runs from 11am to 11pm for 5 days, so you would think there would be plenty of time to take it all in, but I must warn you that there are just so many intriguing facets to this event that you will be hard pressed to make your way through the swirling sea of gustatory offerings.  

I have tried to share a small portion of the Marketplace spectacle through my collages of my photo impressions this year, so that you might get a feel for the breadth of the show. 

One of the more well known parts of the "Salone del Gusto" that takes product tasting to another level, are what are called "Dinner Dates".  These are exclusive dinners featuring special ingredients some familiar and most likely,  some not, but all of the highest quality interpreted by celebrated chefs from around the world in a variety of exclusive settings. This year there were 20 dinners over the 5 nights with limited seating and so these are highly sought after dinner dates, which sell out quickly inspire of their pricey tickets. This type of exclusivity does play to what has been an ongoing critique of "Slow Food" as being an exclusive eating club. It is a fair criticism, and one that they have tried to address through many of their ever expanding initiatives that promotes their core belief that everyone deserves "good, clean and fair food" which you can learn more about following the link. 
I personally think they have done much to counter balance this criticism, but there is still so much to do in this area and in so many directions whether it is fighting for the right to biodiversity, competing on a more level economic field where small produces can actually compete, not damage the environment doing so, and ultimately having pricing that the producers make a decent wage, whilst still being affordable to all economic incomes. Much work ahead to accomplish that goal and it will take a lot more of us banding together to make that happen. More on that in the next post. 
The two Antonias 
So back to the Dinner Date. 
I was very fortunate to accompany my friend Antonia, visiting from Florida, and enjoy the dinner date entitled "Antonia's Vision." Antonia chose this dinner based on their common name and it turned out to be a wonderful selection. The food was accessible and to me familiar and yet with interesting and artful interpretation from Antonia and her team of what looked like female chefs, when they all came out at the end to take their much deserved bows. Each of the six courses were paired with some lovely wines from the Veneto region from where Chef Antonia Klugmann hails from. She was just awarded a Michelin star to her restaurant L'Argine in Venco` (Go), which is in the Friuli, Venezia, Guilia region and all of her dishes seemed to echo the culinary tastes of these two regions with the turn of her unique touch. 

I won't go into all the details as I have added the menu with some snaps of the food to give you an idea of the dinner and do believe me that it was all quite delightful, sometimes surprising and definitely delicious.  I have been asked if I thought the dinner was worth the €90 price tag and it is something I have asked myself as well. By nature and how I was raised, I have trouble spending a lot of money on food, when I am generally thinking how many groceries it will get me, especially when I may have found the meal lacking. This meal did not disappoint, but frankly the aspect of the dinner that knocked it out of the park for me, was the people that we were seated with for the dinner. The two couples what we were randomly seated with were delightful  and interestingly enough, we had much in common. Three of us were avid bread bakers, all Slow Food members and believers. My friend Antonia's business is called The Loft 5 from Anna Marie Island in Florida. She is a tour de force with her talent and staff that goes from designing and planning your event, to catering, styling it and making sure everything goes off without a hitch.  She has teamed up with the King Family Farms and created their very successful "Table to Farm" dinners, that were featured in Southern Living Magazine. You can read about that event here. The two Antonias had much in common. 
The other two couples were charming and extremely fascinating as well. One couple were from Switzerland and both were graphic artists and interesting conversationalists as well. The other couple were from Portugal. They have a business aptly called Food, People & Design. What style and beauty in these talented hands. If that business isn't enough, they also have a farm a couple of hours out side of Lisbon where they have reclaimed some ancient olive trees that are said to be over 1,000 years old.  They work in conjunction with their neighbors and even have set up an adoption program for their trees, to help nurture and provide for these very special trees. Do go to their site and consider adopting one of their trees or purchasing some of their organic oil. I am so impressed with their vision and hard work. Go to their site Azeitona Verde here.  

Needles to say, our dining experience was lifted even higher with such lively exchanges of stories and ideas. For me that was as much of the highlight of the dinner as the food and wine. In regard to the earlier question that was posed to me, "was it worth the money?" I would have to say unequivocally in this case, yes. I only hope that everyone else who attended any of these dinners would be able to say the same.  You just have to make the most out of whatever comes your way and we enjoyed every aspect of this dinner. I'm still savoring this experience even today.
My next post on this event will be on what "Slow Food" does beyond the sensory experience. I hope you will return for that post coming up shortly.
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