Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lunch on the Mountain

Feb. 2010 196

You can get French fries, but forget about ordering a hamburger or a bowl of chili along the mountain trails in the Val Gardena. Not that anybody seems to mind. The range of foods available at slope-side restaurants is just another reminder of why I love skiing in Italy. I’m talking about foods like soft, creamy polenta with sausages and wild mushrooms:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 549 Or osso buco and grilled polenta:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 585 Or polenta with a goulash-flavored stew:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 621

Or polenta smothered in gorgonzola cheese. And a beer to wash it down too. I guess you see I have a weakness for polenta.

polenta, sausage and beer-Val Gardena Jan 2004 Don’t like polenta? You could always have pizza for lunch instead. This one is topped with prosciutto cotto (a delicate baked ham), artichokes and mushrooms:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 519 You’re sure to find something you’ll like here, whether it’s tortellini with prosciutto in a creamy parmigiano sauce, lasagna, or a bowl of chicken broth with canederli swimming inside (These canederli – typical of the region - are made with bread and speck, a smoked prosciutto). All of these are dishes from a cafeteria-style place along the slopes, not even a restaurant.

tortellini, lasagna, canederli in Plose Not hungry for lunch? Just need something to loosen you up on the slopes?  How about one of these drinks, written in German and Italian at my favorite mountain hut or refugio, the Cafe Val D’Anna:

drinks along trailYou could even wrap yourself in a blanket and enjoy it sitting outdoors around the fire:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 529 Did you work up a thirst for something ice cold? Try one of these, at the top of the Ciampinoi lift:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 512 You can always order a hot chocolate with rum on the side, sometimes called a “lumumba.” At the Sport Hotel Sonne, they had just made fresh krapfen, cream-filled doughnuts that are a specialty at Carnevale.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 599 Or my old stand-by, the bombardino with a slice of apple strudel:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 705

But today, it’s soup for lunch, like this goulash soup that I ate more than once on the trails. This part of Italy was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and its food reflects that heritage, as well as much of the signage, which is written in German and Italian.

Back home, I tried to duplicate the goulash soup. While my lunch didn’t have the same ambiance as being in the Val Gardena, the soup tasted nearly the same and hit the spot after a round of shoveling snow. With a lot of winter weather still ahead of us here on the East Coast, it might be just the thing for your weekend meal. Serve with brown bread as they do in the Val Gardena. Beer or grappa optional.

Feb. 2010 202

Goulash Soup

Printable Recipe Here

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup minced onions

4 cloves minced garlic

1 cup pureed tomatoes (I used whole canned tomatoes and then pureed them with a stick blender)

1 pound beef, sliced into short, thin pieces (don’t get an expensive cut, use something like round steak or London broil)

1 t. hot paprika, to taste (available in specialty food stores)

1/2 t. regular store-brand paprika

4 cups chicken broth and

2 cups beef broth (or use all beef broth if you want a beefier flavor)

1/2 cup red wine

2 small potatoes, diced into small pieces

1 large carrot, chopped finely

salt, to taste

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp. caraway seeds

Sauté the onions in the olive oil until wilted, then add the garlic and sauté a minute or two. Add the pieces of beef and brown lightly, then add the rest of the ingredients, except the potatoes. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, then add the potatoes and cook for another 45 minutes. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Strudeling through the Val Gardena

Feb. 2010 159

On Wednesday, she ate apple strudel. And on Thursday she ate apple strudel. Same goes for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – all in the interest of research mind you. When you’re in the beautiful Dolomite mountains of Italy’s Val Gardena, you can’t avoid apple strudel. I don’t try to. I embrace my apple strudel gene. In fact, I think my husband has one type of apple strudel gene and I have the other (more below). Well maybe I have many more of the other since I ate apple strudel daily along the ski trails in the Val Gardena.

image My husband prefers the apple strudel with the thin, phyllo-type pastry, commonly eaten in Vienna and throughout Austria. It’s offered at many places in the Val Gardena too, which is not too far from the Austrian border. Mind you, I won’t turn this down either.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 552  But in pursuit of my favorite kind – the kind with a “cakier” type of pastry – I had to stop at a refugio or restaurant each day to try out the different versions along the slopes. This one at the top of the Ciampinoi gondola is more my style:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 508 And if it comes with vanilla sauce (crème anglais) that’s not too thick and a cafe macchiato, like this one at the Spitzbuhel refugio, so much the better:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 587Now if ever there was a temptation to flee with the goods, here it was, fresh from the oven and cooling out in the open:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 554

On my last day of skiing, we stopped for a final apple strudel before heading down the mountain, and it was perfect – just the way I like it, and with a crème anglais that wasn’t too thick. Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 710

To my surprise, Sonia, a barista working at the restaurant – the Mont Seuc on the Alpi Di Siusi - gave me the recipe for the pastry – something she called 1,2,3. If you read the Italian recipe she gave me, it’s named 1,2,3 because it requires 100 grams of sugar, 200 grams of butter, and 300 grams of flour. Don’t worry, I’ve given you the recipe in English too. The filling is the same as I used in the apple strudel recipe I blogged about last year. However, I overstuffed the strudel this time and still had too much left over. So in making the recipe, I would use six small apples, rather than six large apples (or use four large ones.)

I’ll take you though the process, step by step:

After you make the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator a half hour, roll it out on a floured board to about 18” by 12”. Notice that there are little bits of butter still in the dough – that makes for a flakier crust, so don’t mix it so much that it’s completely homogenous.

Feb. 2010 104 Take a floured rolling pin and wrap it around one end, continuing loosely to at least half-way on the pastry:

Feb. 2010 105  Carefully lift it and place it on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper, then dump the apple filling along the center. I had to remove some of these apples, because it was too much to allow the pastry to close.

Feb. 2010 108

Bring the ends of the pastry together and seal shut, using a little water to moisten the edges. Here’s what it should look like. At this point, you may be wondering how to turn it over without breaking it. It’s simple. Just take another cookie sheet lined with parchment and place on top of the strudel. 

Feb. 2010 109

Then flip it over and you’ve got a nice clean-looking pastry with no patched-together areas. But don’t make the mistake I made and bake it just like this. Now you've got to poke a few holes to let the steam escape – something I forgot to do.

Feb. 2010 110  Otherwise, you end up with a strudel that looks like it underwent surgery and now the doctors can’t figure out how to get the parts back together:

Feb. 2010 114 But even that doesn’t matter, because it all tastes fabulous and once you get the powdered sugar on top and a puddle of vanilla sauce beneath, nobody will even notice the rupture.

Feb. 2010 164 See? What did I tell you?

So what are you waiting for? Maybe you won’t have the benefit of the alps to get you going, so I’m sending you a few recent photos from our recent trip to the beautiful Val Gardena to give your apple strudel gene some inspiration:

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 702 Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 693 Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 662  Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 667

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 673

1,2,3 Apple Strudel

printable recipe here

1/2 cup sugar (use slightly more if you like a sweeter dough)

1 stick plus 6 T. softened unsalted butter

2 cups flour

pinch of salt

1 t. vanilla

4 medium eggs (if you use large or extra large eggs, add a bit more flour - maybe 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup)

6 small apples, peeled and sliced thinly (or four large ones)
3/4 cup finely grated breadcrumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup white raisins, soaked in rum
1/2 t. cinnamon
pinch of cloves
pinch of grated nutmeg

grated peel from 1/2 lemon

one beaten egg yolk to brush on dough

Blend the flour and butter in a food processor. Pulse until butter is broken up and mixed with flour (but don’t over mix or you’ll get a tough dough) Add the sugar and salt, then add eggs, one at a time, pulsing just enough to blend. (Alternately, mix everything in a mixer.) When everything is well blended, place the dough on a work surface. If the dough is too sticky to work, you need to a bit more flour, so just knead it in, but don’t overwork it. (I needed to add another 1/2 cup or so of flour). Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour to make it easier to roll out.

On a floured surface, roll dough to about 12” x 18”. I actually roll it out right on a sheet of parchment paper so I can transfer it easily to a cookie sheet. Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl and place in a line down the middle of the dough. Bring the long ends together, moistening the ends with water to help them stick.

Flip over onto another cookie sheet that’s been lined with parchment. Prick in several places to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg yolk. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning the pan in the oven at the midway point.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar when ready to serve.

In Italiano:

1,2,3 Apple Strudel

100 gr. zucchero

200 gr. burro

300 gr. farina 00

4 uova

un pizzico di sale

1 bustina zucchero vanigliato

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chicken in Citrus Sauce

Feb. 2010 171 The real name of this dish is “Faraona Del Vicariato Di Quistello” or “Guinea Hen from the Vicar of Quistello.” Apparently, the vicar of Quistello ate rather well, if this dish is any indication. It’s a classic dish that’s still prepared today at  L’Ambasciata, a two-star Michelin-rated restaurant in the Northern Italian town of Quistello.

I ate it at my cousin Cesare’s home in Milan during my recent trip to Italy. His companion Erminia, who hails from Mantova, a city near Quistello,  prepared it for us using an actual faraona, or guinea hen. They’re not hard to find in markets throughout Italy, but I wasn’t able to find one over the weekend when I made this recipe.  I used a small free-range, organic chicken instead and it worked well, but if you can find it, a guinea hen will give you more dark meat and a richer flavor.


The dish is traditionally served with mostarda, a condiment that’s used a lot in Mantova and other places in Northern Italy. The most famous mostarda comes from the lovely city of Cremona, the same place where Stradivarius built his violins in the 17th and early 18th century.

Feb. 2010 168 At first sight, mostarda looks like a sweet fruit confection. At first bite, however, you’d be fooled. It starts out with candied fruits – everything from pears and peaches to cherries to figs, but mustard oil is added too, giving it a real kick. Some mostarda can be fairly mild, but others can set your nostrils flaring. It’s most commonly eaten with bollito misto, a boiled meats dish, but is also delicious with hard cheeses and as an accompaniment to the recipe here. 

Feb. 2010 172 The traditional recipe also calls for you to sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top, but they’re a little out of season right now and I couldn’t find them. The dish didn’t suffer without them, but they would add more color if they’re available. Brown food does not make the most attractive photograph.

Erminia served hers with a first course of risotto alla Milanese, one of my all-time favorites. 

Erminia's risotto

Here at home I served mine American style, with a side dish of pasta as the starch.

Feb. 2010 174

As a side note, I’m posting a photo of the beautiful Gothic duomo in Milan, now that the scaffolding has finally come down. Look closely above the doorway and you’ll see a statue that looks suspiciously like the Statue of Liberty in New York City’s harbor. Could the French sculptor Bertholdi have stolen this idea from duomo of Milan?

Lastly, here’s a fun thing going on in Milan right now. As soon as you exit the subway at the Duomo station, the stairs are like piano keys – You can make music just by walking up and down the stairs! Click on this Youtube video and you hear a bunch of young people stepping to the notes of Pachelbel’s Canon. You’ll have to click once here at the triangle and then again when it prompts you to go to YouTube. It’s worth it.

And don’t forget to enter the contest to win a new baby book called “ABC Italiano.” The contest is still open so go to my post about it and leave a comment there.  The contest is sponsored by Joe of Italyville and will be closed after he receives 50 comments. So hurry and leave a comment on my blog, and on his too. Click here for my post and here for Joe’s.


And here’s the recipe:

La Faraona del Vicariato di Quistello con uva, arance e mostarda di pere e melograno.

Or “The Vicar of Quistello’s guinea hen with raisins, oranges and pear mostarda and pomegranate” – whew, that’s a mouthful – how about just Chicken in Citrus Sauce

printable recipe here

Fill a large pot with enough water to cover a chicken and bring water to a boil. Add 1 t. salt, a carrot, a stalk of celery and an onion. Place the chicken into the pot and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes (It should be only partly cooked when you remove it.)

In the meantime, melt the butter in a large pan. Add the oil, the shallot and the raisins and saute for a few moments. Add the chicken, cut into quarters and saute until golden. Add salt and the juice of three oranges and a lemon. Continue to cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

Near the end of the cooking, turn off the flame and remove the chicken to a warm platter, decorating with slices of orange and pomegranate seeds.

To the pan, add 1/4 cup sweet white wine, such as a moscato, swirl it around for a few minutes, then pour over the chicken.

La Faraona del Vicariato di Quistello con uva, arance e mostarda di pere e melograno.

Specialità del Ristorante di Quistello (Mn): "L'Ambasciata"

Ingredienti (per quattro persone): 1 faraona giovane, 4 arance (tenerne una per la decorazione), 1 limone, 1 scalogno, 80 grammi di uva sultanina, 1 melograno, 50 grammi di burro ammorbidito, sale ed olio quanto basta. Per il brodo: 1 carota, 1 gambo di sedano (piccolo), 1 cipollina, sale ed olio q.b.


  • Pulire la faraona da eventuali piume e interiora
  • Immetterla in una pentola dove sarà messa acqua in quantità sufficiente a coprirla
  • Aggiungere una presa di sale, una carota, il sedano e la cipolla
  • Far cuocere per 10/15 minuti (la faraona deve essere poco cotta)

Nel frattempo avete mondato e tritato lo scalogno

  • In una casseruola far sciogliere il burro, aggiungere l'olio, lo scalogno e l'uva sultanina
  • Lasciare appassire un momento il tutto
  • Aggiungere, quindi, la faraona tagliata in quarti
  • Fare rosolare
  • Salare ed aggiungere il succo di 3 arance e il limone
  • Continuare la cottura per 25/30 minuti

A cottura ultimata, spento il fuoco, adagiare la faraona su di un piatto di portata caldo e decorare con fettine di arancia e melograno sgranato.

Irrorare con vino bianco, preferibilmente dolce (Passito o Moscato di Pantelleria)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Caramel Orange Torta and I Vallicelli

outstanding orange tart

The bus chugged up the hill, and stopped short near a large cascina (farmhouse) that has stood there since 1507.  Back then, nobility lorded over the tradesmen who lived in adjoining quarters of the self-sufficient compound, built over ancient Roman ruins not far from Lake Como.  Mulberry trees were scattered among the fruit and nut trees on the property, providing nourishment for the silkworms that were crucial to the region’s silk industry.

doorway at I VallicelliHundreds of years later, the mulberry trees have vanished along with the silk trade that once flourished here. The nobles are gone, the masons, carpenters and blacksmith are long gone too. But the tradition of honoring the land continues. For the last thirty years or so, the lady of the manor who has maintained the tradition is Elena Laura Maria Manganaro.  Elena, a schoolteacher, along with her husband, a professor of veterinary medicine, run the cascina with the help of their two sons, upholding the integrity of the land and traditional ways of their ancestors – from growing the fruit trees to cultivating an herb garden that holds at least 20 varieties of thyme. “Abbiamo tenuti viva la terra, la casa,” Elena’s husband Tony said. “We have kept alive the land, the house.” That includes making the flavorful, delicious marmalades sold under the “I Vallicelli” name.

preserves at I Vallicelli

I was able to enjoy those marmalades first hand, along with Elena and Tony’s most welcoming hospitality, when I tagged along with my friend Pietro Frassica, a professor at Princeton University, and about a dozen of his students one afternoon earlier this month for a truly delicious pranzo (lunch).

dinner table at 'I Vallicelli' Pietro, a professor of Italian Literature and Cultural Studies at Princeton University, also teaches a class called “Italy, the Land of Slow Food” every other year. During the semester break, Pietro arranges for his students to travel to Italy and visit some of the farmhouses, artisan food producers and places that honor the traditional methods of producing food, including a day spent with Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, at his University of Gastronomic Sciences outside of Torino.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 181 On this particular day at I Vallicelli, we were greeted by Tony, who uncorked some bubbly and Elena, who offered some beautiful and delicious hors d’oeuvres. Small clear containers held a fluffy tomato, basil and olive oil base topped with a dollop of freshly made ricotta cheese mixed with marjoram grown in their garden. Similar containers with an olive pesto topped with ricotta were also set out, as well as a platter of locally made salumi and cheeses. A sampling of I Vallicelli’s marmalades, ranging from sweet apricot to savory onion, were available to complement the various cheeses.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 155 While everyone enjoyed the nibbles, Tony headed to the dining room to start the polenta – not in a stainless steel pan on a modern stovetop but in a huge copper pot (paiolo) set inside a wood-burning fireplace that’s been there since the Renaissance. To stir the polenta, he used a large, smooth wooden bastone (stick). 

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 148 An hour later and many stirs with the bastone later, we were seated at the table:

dinner table at I Vallicelli The first course was a duo of tarts – one with spinach and ricotta, the other with onions. I was tempted to split them with my husband, knowing that more food was to come and my waist was already expanding, but before you knew it, I had eaten every last morsel of the savory, flaky tarts and did not regret one delicious crumb. 

spinach and onion torte

The creamy polenta, infused with the smokiness from the fireplace, was served alongside the main course, a dish called Grand Civet dei Vallicelli. And grand it was. The recipe requires the meat to be marinated from three to seven days, rendering it so tender it practically melted in your mouth. The traditional recipe, dating back to 1917, also calls for deer, but beef can be substituted in the absence of venison, which is what we ate for our lunch. It’s an elaborate recipe with many ingredients and many steps and the resulting complex flavor was remarkable – unlike any other braised meat I’ve ever eaten.

delicious brasato e polenta Next came a vegetable course, including one that most of us had never eaten – Jerusalem artichokes. They tasted vaguely like artichokes but looked more like small potatoes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to find them in Princeton, but was glad to have the opportunity to try them at I Vallicelli. Sorry I forgot to take a photo.

Just when you thought there was room for no more, out came a perfectly poached pear, simmered in red wine and spices:

yummy poached pear And then came that exquisitely moist and delicious orange caramel torta, perfumed throughout with citrus, and plated with a dark chocolate candy cup filled with some of I Vallicelli’s home-made marmalade. It was a thing of beauty and it tasted every bit as delicious as it looked.  After taking my first bite, I just wanted to run to a corner, close my eyes and be left alone with a fork and this divine concoction. Fortunately, Elena gave me the recipe and I can do just that in my own home.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 180Each course was served with wines meant to complement the food, including a sweet dessert wine with the torta. Four hours after we had begun, the meal was finished. It was truly a meal worthy of the “slow food” moniker, in every sense of the phrase.

Although the name “I Vallicelli” comes from the Latin meaning “shortcut,” obviously Elena and Tony take no shortcuts when it comes to producing a fine meal and fine marmalades. Simplicity however, is the secret to those delicious marmalades, Elena says. She uses only perfect fruits, not bruised ones, grown without pesticides, gathered by hand and cooked for the briefest time necessary, with little sugar and no preservatives.

It’s no wonder that the cascina (farmhouse) is included in the book “Grandi Cascine Della Lombardia.”  It’s also no wonder that we all scrambled to purchase several jars of the marmalade to savor the experience back at home.  Lastly, it’s no wonder that I baked that torta and I’m headed off to my corner right now.

Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 183 Grazie mille Pietro for inviting me to join your students and especially to Elena and Tony for the warm hospitality you showed to all of us. It was a truly memorable afternoon and a meal we will remember for years to come.  

Elena’s Orange Torta

For my readers in Italy, I’m also including the recipe in Italian, just as Elena sent it

printable recipe here

2 medium size oranges

6 T. butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup flour

3/4 cup sugar

5 eggs, separated

1/4 cup Grand Marnier, or other orange flavored liqueur

For the caramel layer in the pan:

(Elena did not include this in her instructions, so I improvised. This will be poured directly into the cake pan.)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

For the caramel sauce to drizzle on top

(Again, Elena did not include this – I’m improvising here too)

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup cream
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place everything in a small pot and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Lower the heat and cook on low heat around 10 or until the sugar is dissolved and the sauce becomes thick. Cool slightly before using.


Prick the oranges all over and put them in a bowl. Microwave for 10 minutes. Let them cool then chop up in a blender or food processor.

While the oranges are cooking, butter either a 10” cake pan or springform pan. Make the caramel by placing the sugar and water in a pan over high heat. The sugar will melt and start to bubble. Cook it without stirring. Just pick up the handle and swirl the sugar in the pot until it becomes golden. WATCH CAREFULLY. Don’t let it brown too much since it will cook more when you put the cake in the oven. Pour it into the prepared cake pan, being very careful not to touch the hot sugar. Put the pan in the refrigerator to cool while you prepare the cake batter.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the softened butter and beat until mixed. Add the chopped up oranges, 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur, and 1/4 cup flour. Fold in the egg whites and pour the mixture in the prepared pan, over the caramel. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour in a hot water bath.

Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then flip it over onto a serving plate. Make the caramel sauce and drizzle over the top. To serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and bits of orange rind and decorate plate with an orange slice. Chocolate candy cup and marmalade optional, but highly desirable!

Torta all’ arancia

2 arance

80 gr burro

25 gr farina

150 gr zucchero

5 uova

Bucare le arance intere e cuocerle per 10 minuti in microonde . Lasciare raffreddare e quindi  frullare a fondo.

Montare  i 5 rossi d’uovo  con lo  zucchero fino che non si formano le bolle.

Aggiungere il burro, le  arance  frullate, una tazzina di Grand Marnier oppure Cointreau), la farina e gli albumi montati a neve ferma .

Fare uno strato di caramello in una tortiera piuttosto bassa.

Quando è freddo, versare l’impasto e cuocere a bagnomaria  per 1 ora circa in forno a 180°C.

Decora con sottilissimi fili di scorza d’arancia fresca