Friday, September 23, 2016

Road Trip, Italian Style

On Monday Dr. C. and I arrived in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy; having long been enamored with Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera wines, we wanted to see where they came from and we weren't disappointed.
Our family in Spello arranged for us to have their cousin Lucia DeMaria as a tour guide.  Lucia was a professor of art and history at the university here, and so her knowledge is unparalleled, plus she is a lot of fun!  We were staying at the Arborina Relais near La Morra, where her daughter is the managing director.  The hotel is beautiful with large bedroom, sitting room and bathroom with either a private garden for sitting outside, or a balcony to sit and watch the grapes grow, because you are surrounded by them!
A garden in our back yard

Nebbiolo enjoying the sun

 We met Lucia in the city of Alba, home of the Ferrero family (the richest in Italy) and Nutella, that amazing concoction of milk chocolate, and ground hazelnuts.  After World War II, chocolate was expensive, and Papa Ferrero started experimenting with a little chocolate, milk ,and ground hazelnuts which grow well here in Alba.  The rest is history.  Famous for white truffles (the season started 2 days ago) porcini, and chocolate, as well as the wines, this is an area many travelers miss when they come to Italy, but the foods, wine and people are amazing.

 Alba is almost totally a pedestrian city, and on Mondays it's a bit quieter than the weekend.  They were getting ready for the Palio that is staged on donkeys, so there were banners for each neighborhood.

We made our way into a church, that looked kind of sad from the outside, but once inside we were stunned.

Lucia kept telling us that the people in the Piedmont believe that less is more; they don't show off their wealth, you have to look inside to see what's there.  This was so true everywhere we went; opening gates to beautiful palazzos, and strikingly beautiful churches.
Back in the car, we headed up the hill to a beautiful castle, that is still used today as a museum for wine production.  The views from the hill were amazing.

Once back at our hotel, we rested for a while and then headed out to Trattoria della Posta for dinner.  A beautiful old house, we were treated to a lovely dinner, and toddled on back to Arborina to rest up for our next day tasting Barolos.

Typical salad of the region, called insalata Russa or Russian salad, potatoes, may, peas, carrots and sometimes hardboiled egg

Onion stuffed with cheese and sausage


Veal with porcini mushrooms

Braised lamb with vegetables

lemon tart with fresh fruits
And we end our night on our patio, looking down on Barolo country.  Tomorrow we meet the Marquese di Barolo and watch grissini being made.  Ciao for now.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cooking Without a Net

Although pork is king here in Umbria, when I was at the market the other day, I picked up a veal roast, with no idea how I would fix it. I've stated before that the kitchen here is limited, but I'm making do with what we've got; thus cooking without a net (or backup)
 This morning, I decided to stuff the veal with some roasted artichokes preserved in oil that I had bought when we first arrived, and then braise it in the oven.
 First up the stuffing, garlic, rosemary (because I forgot to poach some sage from the garden at the enoteca) lemon zest and the artichokes.
Sauteed the garlic, lemon zest and rosemary in a bit of oil.  Then added the chopped artichokes.
Seasoned with salt and pepper, then let them cool.
My not so great plan ran into a snafu when I realized I had no butchers' twine to tie this baby up, and no silicone bands either---but this is an adventure, so I plodded on.  I cut the veal so that I could stuff and roll it up, next time I will just cut it in half (if I have no twine) and stuff it that way.
Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper before stuffing and rolling it up.
Not bad, but I so wished I had some twine--- I knew that I would get some pork in here, so I took some leftover pancetta and the leftover seasoned olive oil from the artichokes and sauteed the pancetta.

When the pancetta was crispy, I added the veal to brown on all sides --- without butcher's twine this was a trip.
At this point I added the juice of 1 lemon and some chicken broth for the braise, and it's now in the oven for 1 hour at 325.  This would be a great slow cooker meal, too!  I surrounded the veal with some of the potatoes that I bought at Hypercoop on Monday, and when it comes out of the oven, we'll have a salad with it.  I will bet that it would be good cold, too.
Finished product

 A lovely pan sauce flavored with lemon, artichoke and pancetta tops it off.  No need to do anything else except dig in.   Wishing you a buona notte from Spello.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Italian Weddings

I've been to my share of Italian weddings in the US but I've never experienced one here in Italy.  My cousins' weddings in the US were a mixture of theater, fun and lots of noise.  One cousin had almost 500 people at her wedding; while we were loading up on the hors d'oeuvres, we never realized that there was a 10 course banquet to follow.

This same cousin had what seemed at the time to be a 10 tier wedding cake, with a box in the middle of it.  When the bride and groom pulled on ribbons from either side of the cake, love birds flew out of the box in the cake.  Yeah, theater!
The ride to the venue was off the beaten track to say the least, a series of switch-backs to challenge even the best Formula 1 driver, I felt fortunate to get there!  The views from this estate were amazing.

On the estate is a small chapel and the priest who performed the ceremony was a friend of the bride and groom.
the chapel

When we arrived, we were treated to champagne, and toured the property for a while.  As my friends here say, "Italians are always late."  While we were told to be there at 5 p.m. the wedding itself didn't start till 6:30.  This tiny Roman chapel was amazing.
There were photographers everywhere (including me!) a team from Korea was there to photograph a "traditional Italian wedding."
Once the ceremony was over, the appetizers were served buffet style, and they kept on coming.  If I hadn't seen the tent with dinner set up, I'd probably have eaten my weight in the fried zucchini flowers.  Giulietta was the master of the zucchini flowers, and I'm in awe!

When it was time for dinner, we all headed for the beautifully decorated tent.

Dinner, was a tour de force, with 5 courses and wines paired with the courses.  Amazing just doesn't cover it.

As the sun was setting the glow in the tent was something I'd never seen before---so special.  Of course, there was the requisite dancing, and the band that played all the Italian songs that guests sang along with, and there was more wine, and champagne and cake.

 I turn into a pumpkin at midnight and this party was still going strong.  Our family didn't get back to Spello till 3 a.m. and the 'kids' didn't get back till after 5 a.m.  We were so honored to be invited, and also loved just being part of this celebration of love, and family and community.  Congratulations Irene and Andrea.