Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eat a Peach or two and maybe a Crostata

It seems like berry season was far too short before it went straight into apricot and peach season. The peaches have been luscious and tasty of late and I can't seem to get enough of them. I have been making a variety of peach deserts like "pesche ripiene", which is a local Piemontese favorite. Peach halves scooped out and refilled with the fruit combined with ameretti cookies and a bit of this and that and baked soft. Also I have poached peaches and blackberries with a sprig of fresh rosemary added to the pot to add an intriguing "je ne sequoi" before ladling over fresh made vanilla bean gelato. Or one of my favorite standards, Crostata. Crostata is one Italian dessert that seems to unite the regional cuisines into a standard all time favorite. Most commercially made ones have a thick crumbly cooky crust, called Pasta Frolla, filled with a generous layer of apricot, plum or strawberry jam and topped off with a lovely wide criss cross top crust. Often the family Sunday lunches are graced by these homely tarts brought and made by one or more of the guests . I decided that since I needed to have the oven on to bake bread the other day, I might as well have a fresh peach crostata to complement our dinner.I have a couple of different versions of Pasta Frolla that I have collected from a few sources along the way. I've been asked what frolla means and as best as I can translate it seems to mean tender. So a tender dough, which is fitting for this particular version.
You generally find that pasta frolla dough can elicit a long winded discussion with all ladies present claiming to have the best version. We went to our annual Scopri Piemonte Bed & Breakfast Association Potluck meeting recently and the strawberry rhubarb version brought by our president of the association, was quite a good one and I was told that the crust was an "Artusi." For those of you not familiar with Pellegrino Artusi, he was a retired silk merchant that around the turn of the 20th century, at the ripe age of 71, wrote the first entirely Italian language cookbook that has become the standard by which all others are measured. (A bit like Betty Crocker or Joy of Cooking, although they arrived later on the food scene) He called it the "La Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene" (The Science of cookery and the Art of Eating Well). It is still the standard by which recipes are held up against in Italy. Check out the link to Kyle Philips of About.com/Italian Food for a wealth of information, stories and recipes all about Italian cuisine and wine. He's an American who grew up and settled in Tuscany and took on the challenge of translating the book into English. His translation is called the "Art of Eating Well".
Anyway, this frolla dough is quick and easy. My version can be quite fast when using some of my home made jam as a base, topped with thinly sliced fresh fruit, a sprinkle of sugar on top, a pat or two of butter or not, criss cross some wide strips of frolla or indulge your whimsical side with some cookie cut out shapes. Egg wash strips or cut outs and bake till brown and bubbly. Sits well overnight unlike flaky crusts and most Italians have it for breakfast with their cappuccinos if they didn't finish it all the day before.

This crust is from Kyle Philips translated "Artusi" version.

Artusi Pasta Frolla
  • 2 cups flour(200 g)
  • 1/2 cup sugar(95 g)
  • 2/3 cup (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg and 1 yolk
  • The grated zest of a half a lemon or a quarter of an orange

Mix the flour and sugar. Cream the butter, then add the egg and yolk before gingerly adding the four sugar mixture. Handle the dough as little as possible to keep the butter from melting. You can make the dough a day ahead, as it will improve with age, other wise refrigerate the dough for about an hour.
Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C). Choose a 9-10 inch tart pan with removable bottom, or pie pan if you don't have a tart pan. You can use a cake pan as well and perhaps line it with some parchment paper to make it easier to remove if you would like to serve it without the pan. Otherwise grease and flour your pan or use a nonstick spray.

Divide your dough into two parts with one part being about twice the size of the other, using the larger part for your bottom. You can roll your dough between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap if you don't feel confident, making sure to work quickly without warming the dough too much so that the dough gets soft and sticks. Roll the dough out about a half inch thick circle. If it does stick, just pop it into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes and you're ready to roll again or to place the rolled out dough into your desired tart or decorative pie pan. Fill the tart shell with a thick coating of jam.

I used my home made plum and then added thinly sliced peaches. I also like apricot with apple slices and if you want your very own home made fig newtons, this crust is perfect for that as well. I love it with pretty much any of my home made jams. Italians tend to just use straight jam and make sure the jam is about 1/2 inch thick before adding your top. I generally prefer a thinner amount of jam and sliced fresh fruit to cover.

Roll the second round of chilled dough into more of an oblong round, slightly longer that your pan and cut into wide strips with a fluted pastry wheel if you have one. Make wide criss cross lattices on your tart. or use decorative cookie cutter shapes to finish off your top. Brush with a bit of egg white thinned with a splash of water for added shine and sparkle. I didn't do that in the tart pictured here, so it will turn out fine without the wash also.

Bake the crostata for about 20 minutes, or until the dough begins to brown, being careful not to over bake. You want it to just start to bubble and brown lightly. Enjoy day or night.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Now that's one big Baloney!

Now when I saw this gigante Mortadella in the Grocery store the other day I just couldn't resist taking a close up of it. I was then promptly followed down the aisle and told by the management that it isn't possible to take pictures in the store. Sigh..mi scusi....no, no I won't do it again....sigh...They were very protective of that big dog! Mortadella which hails from the city of Bologna gets it due respect here in Italy. It's considered a delicacy, thinly sliced for paninos or slightly fried and piled high on bread rounds, or big chunks of it pasta sauces and salads or grilled on coals like any other respectable grill item. According to the article from "Living in Italy", the fat content isn't as bad as we all have thought it to be.
" For health conscious individuals that are trying to avoid saturated fats and cholesterol there is good news. Mortadella, with its characteristic white pieces of fat is not as bad as you may think. The presence of this fat has scared some into avoiding mortadella but the sausage is actually very good for you. Unsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil comprises most of the fat content in Mortadella and cholesterol levels are equal to a similar serving of chicken. The sausage is also high in protein, not to mention that Mortadella di Bologna is protected by its PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) designation, ensuring that authentic mortadella is free from fillers, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives"

For me childhood baloney memories came rushing in from a long time ago when I beheld that big baby sitting proudly by the big wheels of Parmigiana cheese. Many a fried baloney sandwich on white with mayonnaise for grade school sack lunches were loving prepared by my Mom, to spare me from from some of the more unpopular menus, like liver and onions day. Our family use to take vacations with another family, the Carltons, who lived in the next state and had children close in age to the four of us. When we all got together there was always chaos, pranks and late night tales of the things our parents had done together before we children came along. Whenever our families started planning the next family get together, Sam Carlton was always ready with the baloney. He went on and on about baloney like it was the grandest thing that had ever been invented and we were lucky to be able to bring along a whole sausage of of it, cause there just wasn't anything finer than "Blue Bell" baloney. That joke went on for years and I can't think of baloney with out thinking about Sam waxing on poetically about the virtues of baloney. We use to spend weekends, camp meeting or summer holidays together which usually meant fishing, camping, swimming, and cook outs finished off with roasted marshmallows, juicy water melon slices and hand cranked ice cream topped off with late nights chasing fireflies or hide and seek and always a lot of laughter, so much sometimes, you almost ended up crying or peeing your pants. It was just plain ole fun when we all got together. I can't ever think about baloney (and I can't say that I do very often as I grew out of eating that as soon as I hit the teenage years) without hearing Sam going on about the baloney, and that just meant one thing was coming, and that was, of course...fun! They would have loved that baloney in the picture that's for sure, even if it is Mortadella. I think Sam would have felt validated.
Thanks Mom and Dad, Sam and Louise, for all those laughs and that's no baloney.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

It's been far from quiet

Summer is in full swing after much weird weather that not only have I been commenting on but seems like everyone else has been too. It also seems like it is not just only here but most of Europe is having very extreme weather. The weather seems to be a bit more settled and we're now having some hot and sunny days at the moment. Time is wasting, so let's get out an see a few things around our Italian alps here in Val Chisone.
We've had a wide assortment of guests lately doing quite a variety of interesting things in addition to the high level walking and flower spotting going on. We've had guests who have come here to find their roots and distant relatives in the small historic Valdesain (Waldensen) village of San Germano just down the road. With Fabrizio knowing everyone in the valley, they got to explore and share their family's history with us and a lot of interested local folks. It made for some interesting conversations and discoveries about our neighborhood.
Usseaux Doorway
We also got to spend some time with James Martin of Europe for Visitors and Martha Bakerjian of Italy for Visitors, both sites part of the very informative About.com site, showing them around our neck of Piemonte and enjoying what we usually send everyone else off to do. We missed Fenestrelle Fortress Battle Reenactment by a week, but it is always still an impressive site to stop and have a look at, even if you don't do the almost 4,000 steps to the top.I've come across the About.com web site a number of ways when searching for a variety of information. If you're not familiar with it I highly recommend it as it is a wealth of information on a very broad range of subjects, recipes of many cuisines, travel sites for just about anywhere in the world, computer and web help and tutorials, just to name a very few of the extensive resources available there. I "met " James when I commented on one of his blogs leading up to the Olympics and then discovered his Europe for Visitors site which has a lot of useful information later. Since I knew he had covered the 2006 Winter Olympics from Torino, I invited him to visit our Olympic valleys during the summer to see what else we have to offer.
Much to my delight, I got to meet these very knowledgeable travel writers when they stayed with us last week and did a bit of exploring here in our undiscovered alps. James very kindly added us to his recommended list of accommodation in Italy, (thank you very much) and Martha wrote about the Piemonte region and our wonderful cuisine and wine. We enjoyed their visit and we always enjoy visiting around in our valley and visiting a number of other things that I couldn't cram into one article again, so it'll have to wait for another time.
But in closing, I just have to share this invaluable tip that James gave me about pushing more traffic on to my site. The photo below from the village of Usseaux, known for it's traditional murals painted and scattered through out this tiny traditional village presented itself as an excellent opportunity for me to to add it to my blog and label it as it reads below. You can only imagine there will be loads of people searching for " Naked Man and Woman."
Thank you James and Martha. We hope to see you up our way again sometime soon.

Naked Man and Woman Mural in Usseaux

Monday, July 02, 2007

San Giovanni Day Revisted

June 24, here in Italy is known as San Giovanni Day or Saint John the Baptist name day. And what, you ask, is the significance of that particular day? especially those of us who weren't raised Catholic or Italian?

Well, for starters, it's a day that seems to have been adopted as a religious substitute for the pagan summer solstice celebrations of June 21 longest day of the year. One of our guests was telling me that the night before San Giovanni day is one of a magical tradition. If you go out into the forest you should be able to commune with the fairies and elves. Legend has it, if you leave a bowl of water out on the eve of the 24th all night and wash your face with the water the next morning, you will be blessed with good health. I would like to get out next year and have a bit of a wander around and see if I can discover any of these woodland fairy folk. Something to look forward to for the year.
For little Serre Marchetto, where we live and run Bella Baita B&B, it's a special holiday for our family because this day is Fabrizio's Nonno Guistetto's, name day and a time of reflection and celebration of his life. His mother's father grew up here and we still enjoy his garden every summer that Fabrizio's father now so lovingly tends every year. Back in 1965, Nonno Guistetto was instrumental in getting the footpath from Borgata Rosetto, to what is now the end of our road in Grandubbione, paved. The trek up to this area is more manageable, but that's a story for another time.

On the evening of the 23, the parish priest makes his annual trek up to bless our "pillone" that is at the top of our "colle" Afterwards, he and a good portion of our Serre Marchetto neighbors all come over for a long and late night session of eating and general merriment, hosted by Fabrizio's parents. They may have retired from "La Baita" restaurant years ago, but they love to entertain and an invitation to sit at the large table of Egle and Dante, is a coveted invitation and seldom turned down. There are several of these feasts over the summer and eagerly awaited by friends for their turn to eat small course after course before struggling to the end to finish without popping.

Pillone

Egle's San Giovanni Festa Menu

Antipasti

Melon & Proscuitto
Fresh locally made Salami
Fresh Coconut and Shrimp Salad
(aptly called Insalata Exotica or Egle's fantasy salad)
Russian Salad
(reminiscent of American potato salad)
Grissini & Marla's much requested Olive bread on the table

Primi Piatti
Agnoloti alla Piemontese
Brodo with mini pate au choux puffs

Secondi Piatti
Roasted Guinea Fowl
Arrosto (roast Beef)
Patate Fritte
not just any deep fried potatoes, but Dante's homegrown potatoes form Nonno's garden
Coste, steamed greens from the garden

Cheese Course

Local Berge andTomini
Gorgonzola
Macedonia Salad
Fresh fruit salad
many of the fruits from Nonno's garden

Dante's
fresh made Banana Gelato
made while we all digest a bit
Torte
Egle's Puff pastry Chocolate Cream Dream
Any number of mignons(miniature cream filled pastries) and home made tortes that the other guests have brought, knowing that there will be loads of other deserts, but tradition reigns
all washed down with sparking Muscato, dry and sweet

Caffe

Digestivi
break out the home made Genepy, Grappa, Serpoul and various other home brews
Grappa Cherries

Stop
Everyone trundles home


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