The Small Joys of Summer

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While strolling through the local farmer’s market this past weekend, I came across a bag of these beautiful zucchini flowers.

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Immediately, I was transported back to my summers in Italy as a little girl when my grandmother used to make these for me from the few little zucchini plants she had in her tiny garden.  They were such a treat then – and I was hoping they’d be just as good when I made them!  I was not disappointed!  Making them is so simple, once you realize what the heck you need to do with these delicate flowers!

First and foremost – these flowers are very delicate and should be used as quickly after picking as possible (definitely no more than a day or two).  First I very gently rinsed them off in some cold water and put them on a towel to pat dry.  Then I cut off the stem and removed the pistol inside.  I opened them up flat…and now they were ready to become the treats I remembered so dearly.

I took the petals and coated them with some beaten egg that had been seasoned with salt and pepper.  (I added a bit of Prosecco to the beaten egg – some people add beer or mineral water!)  Then I dipped them in some flour and placed them immediately into some hot olive oil in the frying pan.  I cooked each side until they were golden brown.  I laid them in a dish covered with a paper towel to absorb the oil and patted the tops with another paper towel.  Once I was pleased that the excess oil was off of them, I placed them in a serving dish and sprinkled them lightly with some salt.  That’s when I devoured them!  They were SO good :)

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Cantina Coppo and the Underground Cathedrals of Wine

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UNESCO has been busy in Piemonte, recognizing this historic wine producing region which preserves the tradional methods of growing and producing grapes and wine. Evidence of wine production has been found here that dates back to the Etruscans!  Everyone we met while in Piemonte was pretty excited about this new distinction – they are hoping that it will bring more tourists to the area - thereby making them more profitable. Despite the fact that I wish for them lots of good fortune, it’s nice to still have a place to visit in Italy that is beautiful but not yet overrun by tourists. The roads are small – and driving them, without having to worry about too many cars, was relaxing. We could take in the scenery without the hassles of watching for passing cars whizzing by. We could easily find parking wherever we went and therefore allowed us to explore so much more. We could eat in any restaurant we chose and got to chat with the restaurant staff in a more intimate manner. We were even given a ride back to our agriturismo by a waiter one night after dinner when we didn’t feel like walking back UPHILL to it!

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The DOWNHILL walk we took to the restaurant.

These small interactions with the locals are what we remember about our trips and which make it all the more special.

UNESCO has recognized a unique site in Canelli called the Underground Cathedrals of Wine. These caves, which reach deep into the hillsides, have been in use for hundreds of years and therefore have some historic significance to the wine making tradition. We wanted to visit one of the wineries whose cellars make up these Underground Cathedrals of Wine and were fortunate to arrange a private tour at Cantina Coppo. The same family has been producing these wines since 1892 – it’s great that every new generation  has the interest to continue the family business. Our tour guide, Luigi, was one of the youngest members of the family. He studied business law so that he could bring a new element to the family business. The passion he has for his family’s wine making tradition is infectious. He talked about the wines they produce with lots of love, as well as having great knowledge of the wine making process. They produce some red wines like Barbera and Gavi, some whites like Chardonnay, and the sweet Moscato…but their prized wines are what they call The Metodo Classico (or sparkling wines) produced in the same method as champagne.

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These wines are crisp and refreshing. Coppo’s sparkling wine would be perfect as an aperitif, with a beautiful al fresco summer lunch, or as a dessert wine. It is so versatile and delicious that we didn’t even mind lugging 6 bottles home in our suitcases!

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Luigi took us into the giant caves in which they age their wines.  He explained to us that the caves are always at a constant temperature of 15 degrees centigrade – no matter how hot or cold it gets outside!  The walls of the caves can become very wet with the rains, and they can even flood, but the water doesn’t hurt anything.

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The caves were built over 100 years ago with brick and the original brickwork is still there!  He showed us one cave room where the family keeps their own private stash of wine - he said that on special occasions, one of them is sent down to pick out a special bottle :)  Dust covered many of these old bottles, just adding to the charm of this very special place.

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If you visit the Asti region of Piemonte, make sure to make a stop in Canelli to visit the Underground Cathedrals of Wine.  Our cantina was Cantina Coppo at Via Alba 68, Canelli (AT) and they charged 15 euros/pp for a tour.  The other more well known winery is Contratto at Via Giovanni Battista Giuliani 56, Canelli (AT) and we were told they charge 25 euros/pp for a tour.  Both, I’m sure, would be an excellent way to see this new UNESCO World Heritage site.

Everyday Celebrations – A Guest Post

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I am pleased to introduce you to this new Italian cookbook as well as the author, Maria Loggia!  Enjoy….e Buon Apettito!

Maria Loggia’s kitchen door is always open. Her home and garden are a gathering place for friends and family, who come to share her easygoing enthusiasm and generosity – and her inspired Italian cuisine. In this, her second book, Loggia celebrates the seasons with 16 sumptuous menus – from a spontaneous al fresco garden party to a slow-simmered midwinter feast and a traditional Sunday family lunch.

Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia is on a spotlight tour from July 14 to 18.

Author & Chef: Maria Loggia

Category: Non-fiction

Genre: Cooking, Food & Wine, 176 pages

Publisher: Cardinal Publishing

Published: Oct 1, 2012

Amazon.ca * Cardinal Publishing * Amazon.com

 

Try One of the Recipes!

 

Petto di Pollo Farcito con Uva e Noci

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Grapes and Walnuts

 

 

Ingredienti

For filling:

1 tbsp (15 ml) unsalted butter

2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

¾ cup (180 ml) walnuts, coarsely chopped

½ cup (125 ml) red seedless grapes, quartered

2 tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh chives

2 tbsp (30 ml) bread crumbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

7 oz (200 g) soft goat cheese, cut in 6 slices

 

For chicken:

6 tbsp (90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

6 bone-in chicken breasts, skin on

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tbsp (45 ml) unsalted butter, softened

1 orange, cut into wedges

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, each cut in half

5 bay leaves

To serve:

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange

Preparazione

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

To prepare filling: Heat butter and oil in a large skillet and sauté shallots until soft, 1 to 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in walnuts, grapes, chives and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly. Leave goat cheese aside for now.

To prepare chicken: Oil a 14-inch (35 cm) round earthenware tiella or roasting pan with 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the olive oil and set aside. On a baking sheet, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise slit in each chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through. (This will form the pocket for the stuffing.) Rub remaining 4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil into the chicken (including in the pockets). Divide stuffing equally among chicken breasts, stuffing it into the slit in each breast, and top with a slice of goat cheese. Pull the chicken skin over the filling and secure with toothpicks. Smear butter over the skin and season again to taste with salt and pepper.

Gently transfer chicken to prepared tiella. Scatter orange wedges, rosemary and bay leaves around chicken. Roast 35 to 40 minutes, or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the breast is pierced. Then broil 2 to 3 minutes, or until skin is crisp and golden. Drizzle with orange juice and serve warm with pan juices.

Serves 6

Tips from Maria:

Consigli di cucina (kitchen tips)

The chicken breasts can be assembled the day before, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. When ready to serve, bring chicken to room temperature and cook as instructed. Doing it this way allows the flavours time to meld together beautifully.

Che cos’è? (what is it?)

I’m convinced food tastes better when cooked in a shallow, glazed earthenware dish known in Italian as a tiella. I find earthenware dishes distribute heat slowly and evenly as the food cooks. Aromas and flavours are intensified and casseroles never stick or dry out.

To season a tiella: Before using your tiella the first time, immerse the dish in cold water to soak overnight. The next day, empty the tiella and wipe it dry. Rub the inside with olive oil and place in a preheated 300°F (150°C) oven for 1½ hours. Remove seasoned tiella from oven and place on a wooden board or thick tablecloth to cool. (If placed on a surface like granite or a cold stovetop, it will crack.) To clean a tiella, soak it in warm, soapy water, then scrub with a soft sponge.

 

Meet the Author

 

Maria Loggia is one of Montreal’s best-loved Italian cooking teachers. Her Tavola Mia cooking school in the village of Hudson is a warm, inviting place to learn about Italian cuisine. She also appears regularly on television, is featured in newspapers and magazines, and leads culinary tours in Italy.

Maria finds inspiration in her Italian heritage and draws on family recipes that go back generations. She founded Tavola Mia, her at-home cooking school in 1999. Through her study of Italy’s regional cuisines, which has included numerous sojourns back to her native country, she has acquired great expertise in the art of Italian cooking. Her passion, humor and dedication to excellence have made her an inspiring teacher. Using fresh local ingredients, Tavola Mia celebrates the seasons in authentic, irrepressible Italian style.

 

An Interview with Maria Loggia

 

Maria Loggia from Pierre Blais on Vimeo.

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Barolo and Beyond

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Making our way through all the grapes; meandering our way up as many hilltops as we can; seeing castle ruin after castle ruin – this area has it all! Piemonte is truly an amazing place. There is so much history here – we’ve discovered ancient Roman ruins in Pollenzo which subsequent civilizations built new homes over and  countless Medieval fortresses and towns scattered throughout the area.

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And throughout it all – wine! The Piemontese are very proud and knowledgeable about their grapes and the various types of wine they produce. It seems like everyone is in the wine making business! And perhaps the wine fortifies them with the strength to walk up all the hills!! In every town we visited, I felt like I was always walking uphill!

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Beginning the Piemontese Adventure

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I’ve been waiting to experience this corner of Piemonte for a long time – and, so far, it is not disappointing! We just arrived today into this spectacular region after spending some wonderful time on the French Riviera and Provence! Our home base for visiting this area is the Cascina Barac – a beautiful agriturismo near Alba – completely immersed in vineyards!

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For tonight’s dinner, we took a 1 km walk through the vineyards. We found out later that wild boar and fox like to hang out in the vineyards….it’s a good thing we didn’t have any walking companions!

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Beautiful Ruins – a Book Review

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I finally finished reading Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins after quite awhile since beginning it.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to get through this book….it was actually a really good story but, for some reason, it didn’t grab my attention wholeheartedly.  The story bounced around between Italy in the 1960′s to the present day, with times in between…and at times, I found it hard to keep up.  Towards the end, when it all started to come together, the book read faster and became more enjoyable because I could finally relate all the characters to each other.

The story begins in a tiny little coastal Italian town near the Cinque Terre in the early 1960′s- a town that no one has ever heard of.  A young man has taken over the dilapidated hotel that his father owned before he died and has dreams of creating a super resort that will attract rich Americans!  That dream seems to be coming true when a beautiful American actress suddenly appears one day to stay at his little hotel.  He instantly falls in love with her but knows that nothing will probably ever come of it.  Nonetheless they develop a fondness for each other and they exchange secrets. Unfortunately it all comes to an abrupt end when her very famous lover comes to whisk her away!

Life goes on for this young man – he creates a happy life for himself, even though he always remembers the beautiful American actress.  Life goes on for her as well, and we are introduced to new characters which become part of her life.

Fast forward to the present day, when an old Italian man appears in Hollywood with an old business card looking for that beautiful American actress from the past.  It is at this point that all the pieces start fitting together and I zipped along to the end!

You may be wondering why I have included the photo below….

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The beautiful American actress was actually working on the epic movie Cleopatra when she happened to come to the little island. There are some little twists and turns with Richard Burton and Liz Taylor in the story which give us a little historical account of the tumultuous set of this great movie.

 

Love is in the Air

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Romantic summer nights, flowy white gowns…perfect summer weddings!  We are so excited to have been invited to a wedding in Italy this summer!  It will actually be the very first wedding I have ever attended in Italy and I am thrilled to celebrate Italian Style!  Even though my wedding was pretty much “Italian” with lots of food, wine, and dancing late into the night, it was not celebrated in Italy!  San Francisco’s Little Italy was pretty close, though, so no complaints from me!

As always with Mr. Eros Ramazzotti, he has the perfect lyrics for a the most romantic moment of a couple’s life.  Here is his beautiful love song I Will Marry You Because….with photos of his beautiful wife Marica Pellegrinelli.  There’s a bit of an age difference and I won’t make judgment – only to say that as a musician, he is WONDERFUL and has the most beautiful way with words.  Enjoy!

 

“Ti Sposerò Perché”

 

Ti sposerò perché
Mi sai comprendere
E nessuno lo sa fare come te
Ti sposerò perché
Hai del carattere
Quando parli della vita insieme a me
E poi mi attiri sai da far paura
Fra il bianco e il nero dell’abbronzatura
Ti sposerò perché
Ti piace ridere
E sei mezza matta proprio come me
C’è in comune fra di noi c’è più di una cosa
Ti sposerò perché
Per esempio so che del pallone sei tifosa
Ti sposerò perché
Non mi chiedi mai il giorno che sarai mia sposa
E poi
E poi perché io so già che
Se litighiamo io e te
Non stiamo mai più di un minuto
Col cuore arrabbiato
Ti sposerò perché
Ami viaggiare e poi
Stare in mezzo alla gente quando vuoi
E sei di compagnia
Si vede subito, tant’è vero
Che il mio cane ti ha già preso in simpatia
Sono straconvinto che sarà una cosa giusta
Ti sposerò perché
Sei un pò testarda si, ma quel che conta onesta
Ti sposerò perché
Per un tipo come me sembri fatta apposta
E poi
E poi perché se chiedo a te
Fiducia e un pò di libertà
Non dici no anche per questo
Vorrei sposarti presto
Ti sposerò perciò
Ci puoi scommettere
Quando un giorno quando io ti troverò
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I Will Marry You Because…
I will marry you because
You understand me
And no one knows how to do it like you
I will marry you because
You have a special character
When you speak about a life spent with me
And then you attract me, so much that it’s scary
Between your body and the darkness of your tan
I will marry you because
You like to laugh
And you’re half crazy just like me
We have a lot in come between us, more than only one thing
I will marry you because
Because, for example, I know you are a soccer fan
I will marry you because
You never ask me when the day will come that you will be my bride
And then
And then because I already know
that if we fight, you and me,
we don’t last for more than a minute
with an angry heart
I will marry you because
You love to travel and then
being around people when you want
You like having company
It’s evident right away, it is true
that my dog has already taken a liking to you
I am so convinced that it will be the right thing
I will marry you because
You’re a bit stubborn, but what counts is the honesty
I will marry you because
For a type like me, you were made special
and then
And then, if I ask you
Fidelity and a bit of liberty
You won’t say no and for this
I want to marry you soon
I want to marry you because
We can bet
On one day, when I will find you.