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!

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

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