Sunday, June 28, 2009

Piedmont Tourism


Last week Fabrizio and I made the trek into Torino on the train and back by bus, for a Piedmont Region forum on Tourism in Piedmont. As we created an association for Sustainable Mountain Tourism (TEM...only in Italian at the moment), we were naturally interested to see what they had to say. It pulled in a crowd of about 350 people from across the different sectors of the tourist industry. The Region had a variety of speakers, long on facts and figures and in my opinion, a tad short on vision and direction, but these types of things are often times more a "state of the industry" manifesto and not necessarily a "fixer upper" workshop. Over all it was informative about trends and what the region is doing to promote Piedmont. I must say that it is exciting to see our region and Province take a more proactive role in promoting what we have on offer in this part of Italy. It has been left to languish with the image of being completely industrialized with no redeeming charms for far too long. Kind of like, we have kept Piedmont as our own private secret, in regards to our food, wine, art, history, and majestic mountains to ourselves, and now we're willing to share. Things have changed considerably since I first arrived here back in the beginning of this decade. So it was quite interesting to attend.
Also, since I have worked for many years in the Colorado ski industry, where we did an enormous amount of conferences and banqueting, I found this conference of interest from the banqueting side as well. It was a first rate facility with good visual aid and comfortable seating, Our coffee break area and lunch buffet area has a street map of Torino as it's flooring which I found charming. I must say that one feature that really jumped out and impressed me, was the coffee machines with the staff making fresh brewed espresso and cafe macchiato. Now for me that just spoke volumes. Having seen any number of coffee set ups, with silver urns , airpots and all the rest. To have fresh brewed on demand, now that is part of why they call it "La Dolce Vita" here. The cake at the top of the post caught my attention as well. I have made many a logo or themed cake, over the course of 12 years in the conference business (not to mention birthdays, incoming, out going staff changes and wedding cakes as well or the risque ones that seemed to be a "must have" at times). This one was delicious; chocolate mouse sandwiched between chocolate cake layers and covered with lightly sweetened cream. The individual province coat of arms discs were white chocolate and well executed. This tasty centerpiece was made by Peyrano, one of the older and finest chocolate making firms in Torino, with a beautiful old storefront on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 76. I always make a point to drop by there when I am in the neighborhood.

It was a fun day out and a nice change of pace. Coming across the Torino sightseeing bus on my stroll around town made me realize I need to do that tour some time. The open top bus looks to be a pleasant way to see all major attractions of Torino while someone else negotiates the narrow streets and traffic. After recommending to everyone else, I may just need to take my own advice. Something to look forward to.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Italian Style Quinoa Salad


We've had a warm spell punctuated by a few surprisingly cool days here and there, but the heat makes me crave salads in a big way. I have finally found a way to prepare quinoa, so that my "marito' likes it. Warm savory quinoa, just didn't put put a twinkle in his eye; more like forced feeding and that's no fun. When I made this recently for myself, while he was gone for the day, I discovered later that I had a hard time getting him to share the last of it with me.
This months' theme for the "Heart of the Matter- Eating for Life", is the best of the bounty of June's produce, so with tiny fresh peas and green beans are all over the market at the moment, I knew they needed to be included. My balcony is filling up with my prolific herb containers, not to mention all of the herbs in my little herb patch over by the chickens, so they are a natural component as well. We still are getting some wonderful small tomatoes from Sardinia, but the local "Cuore di Bui", tomatoes, number one choice around here, are starting to make an appearance. If you can find small sweet tomatoes or tart and tangy cherry tomatoes all the better, but just as wonderful with the best tomatoes you can find.
It's a simple interpretation which comes together quickly, reminiscent of the classic middle eastern dish, tabbouleh and sure to satisfy on a hot summers eve.
I'm sending this over to Ilva of Lucullian Delights for HOTM #27 Best of June Produce. You can find out all about this event and many more heart healthy recipes here and a lot of interesting blogs on the round ups as well.


Quinoa Salad
Serves 2

½ c quinoa dry cooked in veggie stock, takes about 15 minutes
green beans, cooked, chopped into 1/2 inch lengths
peas, fresh
2-3 roasted garlic
Tomatoes, tiny cherry
1 T mint, 2 stalks, leaves plucked and chopped or basil if you aren't fond of mint
1 small stalk celery and leaves, chopped
1 T parsley, flat leaf
1 T chives, snipped smal
1 lemon, juiced
2- 4 T olive oil
Salt, good quality, I used pink Himalayan
Pepper

Cook your quinoa in veggie stock for added flavor.
Lightly cook your green beans and peas separately till al dente. I had leftover pencil thin green beans that were a great addition.
While they are cooking, gather and chop all of your herbs.
Juice your lemon into a metal or heat resistant bowl large enough to hold everything.
Toss all your herbs and roasted garlic in.
Add your cooked quinoa, and cooked and drained vegetables while warm and stir to mix. Adding the ingredients warm helps the quinoa absorb the flavors.
Add the oil and season with salt and pepper. Adjust to taste.
Once it has cooled down add your tomatoes.
It's ready to serve now or will hold well over night.
Bring to room temperature or at least to take the chill off.
Adjust seasonings before serving.



Cook's notes
The measurements or approximations and are easily double.
I wished I had made more when I made it as it disappeared quickly.
Delicious as is or on top of a bed of greens.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Wine Tastings

Viva il vino!
I'll drink to that.

I've been talking about the creation of our local wine road featuring the wines of the Provincial of Torino off and on for over a year. It's been an exciting prospect for a variety of reasons, none the least that it will bring greater recognition to this area for it's wine naturally, but the knock on effect is that we continue to meet a lot of interesting people in connection with this project, and discovering much about the wine of our mountains and plains. That is always a bonus.


The Strada Reale dei vini Torinesi (Royal Route of Torino Wines) project kicked off over a year and a half ago and now seems to be chugging along. The Provincia very generously decided to offer, a series of wine tastings in a series of settings around our large province. The goal being to help familiarize our local wines to anyone interested and involved in and around the tourist and wine industry, free of charge, I might add. What a wonderful undertaking.

The first couple of tastings were in our Museo del Gusto in Frossasco (site only in Italian in spite of the English flag) with Marco Di Sabatino, the director of this project and a knowledgeable and passionate sommellier from Torino. He entertained and educated us about our local varietals of grapes and wines some with the more familiar names of Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, and the more unfamiliar, if you're not from here I might point out, with names like Ramie, Freisa, Doux d'Henry, Malvasia and Erbaluce that have evolved and adapted to thrive in our mountains and plains of our section of Piedmont. The names also have a French sound to them, reflecting the time when we were a part of France and now, are the border between Italy and France, highlighting that these arbitrary lines blur over time and reflect the more natural borders of the mountains and rivers. These local Piemontese varieties highlight the characteristics of the soil and weather that come together to make up the bouquet of these wines and reflect the local preferences for lively wines that are oftentimes mistaken for inferior quality. As an American who has not grown up with drinking local wines, who came late to the table and grew fond of the full bodied wines with lots of oak, that are so prominent in our California wines, I can fully appreciate making this mistake.

I know my preferences and openness to sparkling red wines and the more subtle flavors of the reds and whites of this area has evolved and matured over the time that I have lived here. It takes an open mind and sometimes a bit of time and exposure to appreciate wines and flavors that we are unfamiliar with. I know I wasn't a fan of cilantro/coriander, the first time I encountered it when I moved to Colorado, but over time and actually a short time I grew to love it and now make sure to grow it here in my garden to enjoy it in a completely different setting. Local wine here have been much the same. My palate has come to enjoy and appreciate a greater variety of flavors and some of that comes from time and settings. Having someone explain and point out a variety of elements of what is in and underneath what one is tasting is an enlightening and liberating experience.

It helps to keep sipping to work on expanding your palate!
Our second tasting was in Andezano at the Azienda Balbiano a town behind Torino's hillside border and a winery that was established back in the 40's by our President of out Torino Wine associations father and his family today. It is an extremely charming cantina with a wonderful tasting room that will cool you off and quench your thirst on a hot sunny day. The family has added a small museum of toys in one end of the cantina and there is a wonderful fire place with comfy couches surrounding it, making a visit a wonderful winter destination as well.

All in all, the two contrasting locations of an old fashioned cantina full of wonderful antiques and winery artifacts and the sleek modern tasting laboratory of the Museo del Gusto made for a fitting contrast between the reds and whites of this provinces offerings. I highly recommend that you come here yourself and discover another range of Piedmont wines that reflects the character and personality of the Turin Province wines and it's people.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tuxedo Strawberry



Ok, so this is not my most beautiful shot or execution of this tasty, fun treat, but you get the idea. The chocolate, heat and "in fretta", (in a rush) all conspired to trip me up, but in the end, on a plate with a few others and a bottle of bubbly, all is forgiven.
Just a little something to hold you over till I get another post on line shortly.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Porcini e Tomini in Pasta Sfoglia


Boletus Edulis/Porcini Moro
The long winter with it's abundance of snow has replenished our somewhat depleted water table making the mushroom population flourish more easily when the conditions lends itself to finding those fat darlings we affectionately call porcini around these parts. The springtime is a short and sweet season, for the most part, usually consisting of what are referred to as the bianci and not the more prized moro. or roughly translated as black, which to my eye seems more in the red color, but it makes sense overall. As I frequently gas on about how my in laws are keen mushroom hunters, they didn't disappoint this spring either. The little basket above is one of their small daily finds a couple of weeks ago and so a few assorted dishes came together. Porcini risotto is a standard favorite in our house, and of course with an number of simple pastas dishes, which of course fresh made pasta always gets my vote hands down. One of my other favorite "easy does it" standards, is a mushroom and cheese strudel. Use your favorite puff pastry, hand made or store bought and get on with it. It comes together quickly and is sure to impress no matter who is lucky enough to enjoy it with you.



Porcino and Cheese Strudel

Ingredients

puff pastry sheet, (250g or 7-8 oz sheet) home made or store bought
you want a rectangular sheet about 9"x12"1/2cm(1/4") thick

250g -300g (8 0z) porcini, fresh, cleaned, thick sliced and cut into chunky bits
or
8 oz fresh crimini or white mushrooms, sliced
10-15g dry porcini, rehydrated in warm water for a 5-10 minutes
20g (2T) onion, red, white or shallots
1 garlic clove, minced
30g (2 T) butter or a 50/50 mix of olive oil and butter
1 T/sprig or two of fresh thyme, chopped. I like some of the lemon and plain thyme mixed
1 bay leaf broken to release the flavor
5g (2T) parsley, chopped
50-60ml (1/4c) white wine

100g Tomini cheese or soft cheese, ricotta or mascarpone would work also

egg wash (whole egg and a few drops of water whisked together/ or straight whites and water)


Method
Preheat your oven to 190*C/375*

Saute’ the mushrooms, onion, and garlic till soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the herbs and continue to cook another 5 minutes or so.
Before the mixture picks up much color, deglaze the pan with our white wine.
Continue cooking till all the alcohol has evaporated and only pan juices remain.
Use a bit more oil or stock or water if you need a bit more moisture. You do want a fairly dry mixture.
Cool the mix.
Cut your cheese up into 1/4" slices or chunks
Add to the mushrooms when they have cooled down a bit
If using ricotta or mascarpone, you will smear this on the bottom of your sheet of pastry.

Lay your pastry out flat on your sheet tray that has been oiled or on top of a sheet of baking paper, which is my preference.
Fold your pastry length wise in half.
Cut 1/2" wide strips 1/2 of the way to the edge, starting 1 1/2"-2" from the top and bottom.
Carefully open your pastry and lay flat again.
Spread your soft cheese on one side of the uncut pastry, leaving a 1/4 inch empty edge.
Cover with your mushroom and cheese mixture.
Brush the edge with your egg wash.
Bring the pastry over the top and seal by pressing the edges together with a fork or
Work your way around the three cut edges, curling the bottom and top dough together pressing the dough back in on itself, making sure the bottom dough stretches up and over the top dough, making a nice decorative edge and seal.
Brush your whole pastry with your egg wash making sure not to clog your slits so the steam will escape and all will bake and keep it's shape.
Bake in a hot oven for around 30 minutes or until the pastry is cooked on the bottom and the top is crisp and brown.
Cool a few minutes before cutting into wedges.
If you are feeling flush you can even serve it on a bed of sauteed mushrooms



Cooks notes
A couple of puff pastry recipes if you want to make your own.
Easy short cut puff pastry recipe by Gordon Ramsey, here in grams or more traditional variety here in a puff pastry video demo, by Ms Glaze's Pommes d'Amour

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Tomini for you and me


Recently, we hosted guests that were celebrating a special birthday in a special way. They wanted to cook, drink and experience the culinary offerings of our slice of Piedmont. Fabrizio and I were only too happy to guide them on this journey as we navigated our way through the Pinerolo market, local vineyards with samplings of the fruits of their labor, and a hands on cheese making lesson culminating with a tasty antipasto to make again, once back home. It probably will be challenging to find a fresh, soft cheese like our Tomini when they try it back home, and they certainly won't find any quite as fresh, but they will have a good basis for appreciating the labor that goes into making cheese, I think.

We arrived at the fattoria just as the milk was ready to form curds and be ladled up, thereby missing out on the more strenuous milking and the waiting game for the milk to reach the appropriate temperature for making the magic happen. Once all these elements came together, we all had a go at gently gathering them up and depositing them into the draining forms that gives a Tomini it's name. Then after a brief rest, for the cheese, that is, we worked on mastering the more delicate process of flipping them over, before they come to rest againin order to continue draining out the remainder of the whey .

Mastering the art of the flip.
Our host and teacher made it look quite simple, but she does have the advantage of endless daily cheese making sessions of the various cheeses. The cows just keep on giving milk day in and day out, no holidays, and they just keep making the Toma, Tomini and ricotta, just to name the main ones that are produced in our part of the alps.
So when we made an antipasto with the fresh Tomino with a couple of varieties of tomatoes that we had purchased in the market, there was a small competition amongst the group as to whom had made the best plate presentation. I thought they were all good, but this is the one that seemed to translate best in a photograph. Let the taunting begin.


Simple Tomini Pomodori Antipasto

Take fresh Tomini towers and slice them into 1/2 inch/ 2 cm rounds. One Tomino will feed two people.
You could use ricotta or any other fresh soft cheese that you can find in place of this local specialty
Slice some of your favorite just barely ripe tomatoes into same size rounds. One to two tomatoes per person.
We used Cuore di Bue(Ox heart) and Camone from Sardenga, as our local tomatoes are not quite ripe yet.
These local favorites make a nice blend as the former is full flavored and mild and the small Camone are tart and juicy. Dicing a few for additional garnish is a nice touch as well.
Finely chop rucola (arugula/rocket) into a chiffonade or small bits to make a nice bed for your stacks.
Alternate tomato and cheese rounds with some finely torn fresh basil.
A sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Drizzle all with hot pepper olive oil or any other good quality oil or flavored oil.
Serve at room temperature.
A zippy start to any meal.
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