Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Castello di Razzano wine trip


The vendenmia started here in Piedmont last week in earnest and so I thought I might finally get around to a quick post about a wonderful road trip we took this summer with our friend Rachel, who is here doing a season as a "stagista" cook, in a local hotel, Mason Verte, to expand her horizons and experience. We took the opportunity to visit friends over in the Monferrato region over by Asti who took us to visit a beautiful family run winery and former castle, Castello Razzano.

The Olearo family are very welcoming and generous with their time. They gave us a full tour of the castle that has been renovated and turned in to a regal B&B in the serene rolling vineyard.


We also enjoyed a wander through the cellar and displays before we got down to the serious business of tasting the wine.
I can say it was delicious and we left with some wine to bring back home.
If you find yourself in the area and would like to visit or stay in a castle in the Monferrato hills this would be a delightful choice. Their Barbera wines were flavorful with all the goodness of the goodness of the surrounding sun and hillside bottled up in their wines. But then you can decide that for yourself, as they have a reasonably priced wine tasting menu to sample their range of wines. I think if you buy a few bottles of wine they probably won't charge you extra for the sampling of 2 or 3 of their high quality local varietal wines. I've included a link below to a map where you can find them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Creamless Tomato Soup'... O foods for Ovarian Cancer awareness month

I seem to have lost my post from yesterday, so this one will be a little more streamlined to say the least.
Cancer seems to touch all of our lives in it's many forms and I'm sure all of us have or will lose someone to one form or another of this heartbreaking disease. We lost Fabrizio's Aunt Viola 2 years ago to ovarian cancer. She was a charming, cultured woman with a very dry sense of humor and kept the tidiest apartment I've ever been in. I barely got to know her, and feel cheated that we lost her so quickly.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of Gina DePalma, author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen and Executive Pastry Chef of Babbo Ristorante in NYC, who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy, Jenn of The Leftover Queen, and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso are asking you to donate to the:

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (via FirstGiving.org)


You can find out more details about their contest by visiting any of their sites or clicking here or here. You can also find out more about the symptoms further down this post.

I am offering up a Creamless Tomato soup as part of the effort to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. It's a recipe I found on the Cooks Illlustrated site, via their newsletter. The site has quite a few free recipes, but most are only available if you become a paid subscriber. This particular recipe I found by way of a link on their newsletter. It's really a stand out recipe as there isn;t a drop of cream in it with bread standing in as the creamy substitute and acidic tamer with out sacrificing tangy full on tomato flavor. I made a few notable changes in that I halved the recipe and used fresh tomatoes instead of tinned ones. Right now the tomatoes are still in full force and would be a shame not to use them as they are so flavorful and juicy, they are simply impossible to resist. It helps too that several friends have given us a few from their over flow from their gardens.

You can find the original recipe at Cooks Illustrated, here.

Creamless Tomato Soup

INGREDIENTS

2 Tb olive oil , plus more for drizzling
1 small onion , chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves , minced
Pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
800 g fresh tomatoes, juicy ripe ones were the best, chopped
1 t brown sugar, very optional
2 large slices good-quality bread , torn into 1-inch pieces I used the crusts as long as they weren't too tough
1 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoons brandy (optional)
salt and ground black pepper
2 T chopped fresh mint or maybe even basil or chives

  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pan and add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes (if using), and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until there are no large pieces remaining.
  • Stir in the bread; bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.
  • I used an immersion wand and blended it.
  • Then I added the chicken broth and optional brandy and blended it again it it seemed to need it.
  • If you don't have one of those a blender works also. Blend half of the soup at time.
  • Return soup to boil and adjust seasonings to your taste with salt, pepper and a touch of brown sugar if your soup is a tad too acidic. I didn't use the sugar as I found it overwhelmed the bright flavor of the fresh tomatoes. Canned tomatoes might be a different story.
  • Serve soup in individual bowls.
  • Sprinkle each portion with fresh chopped mint and drizzle with olive oil and a twist of spice from your pepper mill.
  • Other garnishes might be fresh made garlic olive oil croutons, cubed, sauted, or oven roasted aubergine or oven roasted tomatoes. I also like toasted seeds, like sunflower, pumpkin and sesame, sometimes all mixed together, that have a touch of tamari/soy sauce added to them at the end. then there is the Italian favorite stand by, especially if you didn't get the salt just right, fresh grated Parmesan

I added the last of my "viole"(Johnny Jump ups where I grew up) from the garden, because not only do they make for an eye catching presentation, they remind me of Zia Viola.
We miss you.

From the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund:

  • Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women; a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is 1 in 67.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that 21,650 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. in 2008 and about 15,520 women will die from the disease.
  • The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and subtle, making it difficult to diagnose. There is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer but there are tests which can detect ovarian cancer when patients are at high risk or have early symptoms.
  • In spite of this patients are usually diagnosed in advanced stages and only 45% survive longer than five years. Only 19% of cases are caught before the cancer has spread beyond the ovary to the pelvic region.
  • When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early on, the five-year survival rate is greater than 92%.

Please donate to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
and help spread the word!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Grab a cup, a slice and don't forget....



September is quickly drawing to a close and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to mention that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It is worth mentioning, as cancer in it's many manifestations, is such a pervasive disease that has affected my friends and family directly and indirectly, so I wanted to add my voice to this particular occasion. Sara of Ms Adventures in Italy, Jenn of The Leftover Queen, and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso are asking you to donate to the:

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (via FirstGiving.org)

in honor and support of Gina DePalma, author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen and Executive Pastry Chef of Babbo Ristorante in NYC, who was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. These bloggers have put together a contest to raise awareness and money for this research. Click on any of the 3 sites and you will find all the details for this very worthy cause.Please head over to one or all of their sites for details. A wonderful way to join in the effort to support cancer research.

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (via FirstGiving.org)

and then, out of the goodness of your hearts and to be eligible for the O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month Contest, please do the following:

1. Post a recipe to your blog using a food that starts or ends with the letter O (e.g., oatmeal, orange, okra, octopus, olive, onion, potato, tomato) and include this entire text box in the post;

OR

2. If you’re not into the recipe thing, simply post this entire text box in a post on your blog to help spread the word about the event and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

AND

3. Then send your post url [along with a photo (100 x 100) if you've made a recipe] to ofoods[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm (Italy time) on September 30, 2008.

We will post a roundup and announce prize winners on October 3.

Prizes:

  • 1 Recipe Prize for best “O food” concoction: $50 gift certificate to Amazon;
  • 1 Awareness Prize for only publicizing event: Copy of Dolce Italiano cookbook.

———

On another note about contests...

La Cucina Italiana

There's still time to get your "Organic Italian soup for fall weather" recipe together and submit it over at "Blog from Italy". Alex has extended the deadline till September 27. To get the details click here. It's a great opportunity to win a subscription to "La Cucina Italiana" magazine, US version.

Marla

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Festa, Festa, Everywhere a Festa

It's that time of the year when there are just so many darn festivals going on it's hard to get around to any of them let alone all of them. I have put together a little slide show from last weekend's Pinerolo Artiginato festival for you to get a feel for it. Last week when I was loving that hot weather that made me think that summer would never end, I was wondering around enjoying the last stand of summer.
Well, let me tell you , I got a rude wake up call that brought me to my senses. Fabrizio said it was just too warm for this time of the year and what do you know, on Friday we had the most amazing hail storm. It would have been more enjoyable if I didn't keep thinking about my poor geraniums that were in such glorious bloom. and the garden that was still in full production. Sigh. need I say more?
Well, I must say that now that the sunny weather has returned.
Even though I now am completely back into the reality that winter is just around the corner, I can go back to enjoying all the other festivals that are on this autumn. Pinerolo still has the "Maschera di Ferro" festival coming at the beginning of October. The link to the festival has some great photos, although the site is all in Italian. If you would like a bit more info on the Man in the Iron Mask festival and other Piemontese festivals in English, head over to Martha Bakerjian's " Go Italy" site on "Italy Travel", About.com. Her site has a wealth of information on Italy and Italian travel.
The "Slow Food Salon del Gusto" is a bit later on and there are quite a few other mushroom, polenta, chestnut, apple, truffle and on and on events, to try and get out to, but for now enjoy the photos of one last weekend in Pinerolo, that brought all kinds of artisans of art, crafts, foods and such and wander around, and take a peak. Artiginato del Pinerolese "32 rassegna"




Monday, September 08, 2008

Giardiniera for a crowd

I've been wanting to do a post on this much loved Italian antipasti for over a year now, but have only now gotten around to it now that it's canning season again. If you've ever had the grocery store variety and liked it you should really love this recipe. Store bought types lack that certain flavorfulness that I am always been in pursuit of and find most commercial ones really lacking in real flavor. Ever since I had my Mom's and grandmother's home canned pickles, I've been making my own for years. It was a bit of a bitter pill when I realized that Italians for the most part aren't very keen on dill or bread and butter pickles, although I did find some cukes in the market last year and make a wonderful batch of each, but that seems to be an exception. I have to look pretty hard for pickling cukes and our mountain garden just can't turn out enough for even a small batch, sigh.
Oh well, giardinera is a versatile wonderful substitute and is much loved in this family. This belongs to the broad termed variety of dishes called agrodolce, which loosely translates to sweet and vinegary, sort of like bread and butter pickles, if you are familiar with those.
My mother-in-law, Egle, gave me her recipe when I was still working at the art school and I used it to make up some to use for a quick antipasti or on a buffet. I have another recipe from a local Tuscan neighbor that I used also. Along the way, of course, I modified it to my taste, as I'm sure you will too. It never comes out the same as I tend to add or subtract different items as I have things on hand. I now usually make a batch or two to put away for the winter when the family celery or cauliflower is ready and supplement other items from the market vendors. This year we had some wonderful tiny onions to add in as well.
You can make this to use for a large gathering and I think you will find it disappears quickly. Just remember to make it at least two days ahead for the flavors to meld. I preserve this in small batches and this amount yields about 6 pints. I find myself forever confused with what measurement to use having all the different measurements to choose from all my different sources and experiences. My mother-in-law uses bicchiere or glasses as her measurement which is pretty much along the lines as an American cup. I now only have a digital scale that measures in grams/kilos so if you find my measurements confusing, then welcome to my world.
This a rough estimate on all and you definitely need to taste your mixture as you go along and adjust to suit yourself. Egle use to always tell me that my giardinera was redder and sweeter than hers, but this year she said she had gone a bit sweeter and redder and she thought she liked it better. We still have to see what Dante, my father-in-law, says, as he's the consummate traditionalist wen it comes to Piemontese food. So far, so good. I think he has approved this years batch. Try if for your family if you haven't already and I think you'll be making it again too sometime.


Egle’s Giardiniera

Ingredients:

1-2 celery (500 g), sliced into half moons
6-8 carrots (500 g), diced
1 -2 heads of cauliflower (1-1 ½ kg) small flowerettes, dice stem
(4 ¼ lb (2 kg) in total, approximately)
½ cup or so olives, black and green
3 T capers
These are the essential ingredients.
I have listed some other possibilities if they strike your fancy, or if, like me, you have a few odds and ends of things that you prefer.
My giardinera varies from year to year.

Agrodolce
¾-1 liter olive oil
1 ½ -2 cup vinegar
¼ c sugar or to your taste
¼ c tomato paste
4 sliced garlic cloves
4 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt, if you use very salty water to blanch the vegetable, you might cut back a little

Optional additions
tiny onions
green beans
artichokes
mushrooms, this can only be fresh porcini for local purists
tuna

6 Hot sterilized pint jars, if preserving for later

Method:

Was and cut all of your raw vegetable into similar sized pieces.
Gather together all of the assorted additions and have them all ready to add.
Bring some salted water to a boil to steam or blanch all of your raw vegetables,
including the onions and mushrooms.
You want to make sure to stop any bacterial growth by this step.
Olives, capers and other already tinned or processed food doesn’t need to be blanched as it has already gone through this process.

Prepare your agrodolce marinade, like you would a vinaigrette, whilst your water is coming to a boil to blanch the vegetables .
Use a fairly large bowl that will fit everything later.
Whisk your oil, sugar, vinegar, salt and tomato paste all together.
Add the sliced garlic, cloves, bay leaf.
Season, taste and adjust seasoning.
Heat all of your mixture till hot but not boiling.
I use a large metal bowl that I can heat it all up in before adding the vegetables and everything else.

Steam your individual variety of vegetables till they have softened .
Toss them all into the agrodolce mix, mixing to coat everything.
Hot pack into sterilized pint jars.
Use new canning lids and screw tight before immersing them in the hot water for twenty minutes. Consult a book on preserving if you are unfamiliar with the process.
Important to let this mixture set for 2-3 days before using for the best flavor.
Serve with some tuna mixed in and you have a hearty lunch of substantial antipasti.

Don't forget there is a great opportunity to create an original Organic Italian soup recipe for autumn weather and win prizes in the form of subscriptions to " la Cucina Italiana" cookery magazine, US version.Details over at "Alex" at "Blog from Italy" .
Submissions will be taken from the 12 September until midnight 19th September.

Put the soup kettle on and start cooking up a winning recipe.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Pinerolo Fiera and a Contest!

And just to tempt you to get your thinking caps and aprons on,
"Alex", over at "Blog from Italy" is cooking up a recipe contest with some prizes in the form of subscriptions to the la Cucina Italiana cookery magazine.
I'm going to be one of the taste testing team!
Here is a date for your diaries: the contest details will appear on the 5th September.


La Cucina Italiana

La Cucina Italiana Magazine

Monday(Labor Day in the US and fondly referred to by me as "Stress Fest" for many years, but that is another story), was the semi annual festival of Pinerolo, the large market town at the mouth of our valley where we always enjoy the festivities on offer. I wasn't really intending to post anything on this years autumn version, as I have several other posts simmering on the back burner. Fabrizio, however, was so taken with this little boy on the big tractor, that he begged me to put it on the blog so convincingly or should I say so insistently, that I could hardly say no, especially, as he told the parents that was exactly what I was going to do.

I hope they enjoy it if they find their way here.
We were in the farm animals and implements section which always makes me think of where I grew up in the Midwest, as we had very similar type of festivals. Here of course there are all sorts of different implements to amuse and make you wonder. A few years back I was surprised to find Lamborghini tractors of a amazing size, even by American standards. They looked to be just what you would want if you are plowing those fields for hours on end in the heat of the Po river agricultural heartland. You'll find a picture in the little slide show I added at the bottom.

I really thought the log cutter was quite the interesting contraption and ha a small crowd of older men gathered round to discuss it's merits and shortcomings or may just talk about their glory days of cutting wood every year to keep the family warm. This of course is more for the professional cuter that is selling wood to all the folks that don't have their own private resource of renewable energy.
We wandered around finding all the little odds and ends that we've eyed before or not and decided that this time the price or timing was right to make that purchase of must haves that you just can't live without, but have. Fortunately, there weren't that many of them. We found a small wooden platter for our polenta, and a well made grill pan that we have been eying for awhile, before moving on to the strip where all the cheeses, salamis, anchovies, truffles resisting with great will power.

This is after we had been nibbling on it a time or two.
There is one guilty pleasure we have decided not to resist any more, throw caution to the wind and buy a chunk of soft gooey nougat packed with toasted hazelnuts and that would be Torrone.
Enjoy a short stroll through the festival below.



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