Weekly Photo Challenge: Sharing My Italy 2012 in Review

WordPress has compiled a 2012 annual report for my blog so I thought it would be fun to share it with you.

Also, this week Photo Challenge gives me the opportunity to review my first year of blogging through some of my favorite pictures. The first 12 pictures are some of my favorite recipes, the next 24 are pictures from my 2012 trip in Italy, and the last two are . . . you will have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find out!

I want to also take this opportunity to thank everyone that has supported me throughout this year and I wish everyone a New Year 2013 filled with peace, joy, and health.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 19,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures

My most viewed post for 2012: CALZONI E PANZEROTTI 

Calzoni and Panzerotti

NEAPOLITAN RAGÙ

Neapolitan Ragu`

PESTO TRAPANESE

Maccheroni al Pesto Trapanese

CHIACCHIERE DI CARNEVALE

CHIACCHIERE

EASTER PIZZA PIENA

PIZZA PIENA

ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE

ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE

POTATO GATTÒ

GATTO` DI PATATE

DELIZIA AL LIMONCELLO

DELIZIA AL LIMONCELLO

PARMIGIANA DI MELANZANE

PARMIGIANA

CIAMBELLA DEI SETTE VASETTI

CIAMBELLA

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

EASTER NEAPOLITAN PASTIERA

PASTIERA

IMAGES FROM MY 2012 TRIP IN ITALY

Navigli, MilanoBroletto, Novara

Cantine Marchesi di Barolo

BaroloLake OrtaLake OrtaVeneziaVeneziaGondole, VeneziaBuranoBuranoBuranoTorcelloTorcelloLake ComoLake ComoOrvietoCivita di BagnoregioCivita di BagnoregioCivita di BagnoregioSorrentoAmalfi CoastAmalfi CoastAmalfi Coast

AND MY LAST TWO

my birthday

MY 50TH BIRTHDAY!

And the hightlight of the year . . . My trip to China

The Great Wall, China

THE GREAT WALL!

FELICE ANNO NUOVO!!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Related posts:

Lake Como not off the beaten path but still beautiful

Two nights in Venice

A day in Barolo

A recipe from Piemonte: Brasato al Barolo . . . A Perfect Holiday dish!

Holiday Dinner

I haven’t been very active on my blog lately and apologize for that. Many things have kept me occupied, however, I could not let the Holidays go by without thanking all of you for your support through my first year of blogging.

I shall also thank two very special bloggers, Meg at Meg Travels and Letizia at Dutch goes Italian for awarding me with the Blog of the Year 2012 Award. I am humbled and honored to be in such a great company . . . GRAZIE, GRAZIE, GRAZIE!!!

To celebrate my 1 year Anniversary, my Award, and the Holiday Season I want to share a recipe that I think you will love: Brasato al Barolo. A dish typical of the Piemonte region and perfect for a special occasion such as Christmas.

The beef is marinated in Italian Barolo wine for almost 24 hours then slow cooked in the same marinade for 3 more hours, the result is a rich dish full of flavor, elegant and earthy, comforting and intense all at the same time.

Barolo is a full-bodied Italian wine from the Nebbiolo grapes. It is quite expensive (especially in the US) so I often substitute Barolo with Nebbiolo, You will still have to pay around $20 for a bottle of Nebbiolo, however, for a special occasion, it is wort the expense.

You can read about my visit to the Marchesi di Barolo ‘s winery in the town of Barolo clicking on this link: A day in Barolo

I prepared Brasato al Barolo last week for a Holiday dinner with some dear friends, but the first time I cooked Brasato al Barolo was in 1982 when I invited my boyfriend to meet my parents. Although it was not my intention to – as they say in Italy –  “prendere l’uomo per la gola” (literally: take a man through his throat; meaning: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach), that man is today my husband of 26 years . . . I think he was impressed!

The Brasato al Barolo is typically served with a side of polenta, mashed potatoes or stewed pearl onions. For my Holiday dinner I served my Brasato with my mom’s version of mashed potatoes (simply boiled and mashed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil), sautéed broccoli rapini and cipolline all’aceto balsamico (pearl onions stewed in balsamic vinegar). My Holiday dinner turned into a two days cooking affair as I also served a primo piatto (first course) of rondelle (fresh pasta roll ups) spinach and ricotta with bechamel sauce. I also prepared pears cooked in red wine served with Sabayon sauce as dessert. And since I LOVE desserts, I made mini Panettone cakes covered in chocolate ganache and lastly chocolate-chestnut truffles!

Rondelle spinach and ricottaPere cotte al vinoTruffles and mini cakes

I promised that I will share all these recipes soon.

I would like to encourage you to read my previous posts on Italian Christmas’s  culture and traditions. You can learn about the fascinating Neapolitan Presepe (Crèche), the truth about the Feast of Seven Fish, and New Year’s Eve Italian traditions.  You can also add some traditional Neapolitan desserts to your table with my recipe for struffoli and mostaccioli.

Lastly, I would like to nominate three bloggers that I have being enjoying following, for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award:

Two Black Dogs

Our Italian Table

Writingfeemail’s Blog

Congratulations and thank you for such enjoyable blogs!

Please read the rules of the award at the bottom of this post.

Happy Holidays to all and don’t forget to keep the little angels of Sandy Hook Elementary School in your hearts throughout this Holiday Season.

Ricetta

Brasato al Barolo

Cosa serve (What you need)

2 pounds beef (shoulder, chuck or boneless short ribs)

1 bottle of Barolo or Nebbiolo

1  onion quartered

1 large carrot chopped

1 celery stalk chopped

1 bay leaf

4 tablespoon of unsalted butter

3 cloves

1 small cinnamon stick

8-10 peppercorns

4-5 juniper berries

1 sprig rosemary, 1 small bunch of sage, 1 small bunch thyme – tied together

1/2 cup cognac – optional

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 oz. prosciutto fat – minced

Cosa fare (What to do)

Pat dry the meat and place it in an earthenware pot. Add the chopped  vegetable, the herbs, and all the spices.

Prepping the BrasatoHerbsSpices

Sprinkle with salt and then pour the wine.

Barolo wineBarolo marinade

Cover with the pot and let marinade in the refrigerator for at  least 12 hours (24 hours would be ideal). Turn the meat over few times during the marinade period.

When ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Also remove the vegetables and herbs. Strain the marinade and discard any remaining solids, including the spices (I did not remove the spices which resulted in a too intense flavor).

In the same pot, heat the oil and butter. Add the vegetables and let them browned.  Also add the bunch of herbs.

Browning vegetables

Add the meat and brown on all sides. At this point if you decide to use the optional cognac, you should splash the liquor over the meat and light it and let the flames go out. I am still not comfortable with this step so I simply splashed the meat with cognac, raise the heat to high and let evaporate.

Season the meat with salt, pour the wine from the marinade over it.

Slow cooking the Brasato

Cover and cook on very low heat for 2 hours.

Spoon out the vegetables and remove the bunch of herbs. Discard the herbs and puree the vegetables in a food processor.

Add the puree to the pot and continue cooking for 30 minutes. At this point the meat should be cooked. Remove it from the pot and keep it warm.

If the sauce appears too liquid, add 1 teaspoon of potato starch, bring to boil and let thicken.

Slice the meat, pour the sauce over and serve with the side dish of your choice.

Buon Appetito!!!

Brasato al Barolo

What are you serving at your Holiday dinner?

BUON NATALE!!!!

Rules for the Blog of the Year 2012 Award

  • Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
  • Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
  • Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/our-awards/blog-of-the-year-2012-award/   and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
  • Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
  • As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

It seems that the weekly photo challenge has lately become my only opportunity to share my Italy with you. I hope to get back with recipes, travel notes, notes on culture and traditions as soon as possible. For now, I hope you will enjoy my entries for this week photo challenge: delicate.

I picked two images from Venice, the delicate vetri (glass art) of Murano (picture taken at the Carlo Scarpa- Venini exhibition) and the delicate touch of  an artisan working on a Venetian maschera (mask). I am also sharing an image of the delicate Burano merletti (laces) (Burano is a small island in the Venice lagoon and it is known for its lacework). Lastly, the delicate taste of my Delizia al Limone, a lemon flavored dessert typical of the Amalfi Coast. You can find my recipe clicking here.

Weekly Photo Challenges: Reflections

Few photos from Italy to answer this week photo  challenge: Reflections.

ISLAND OF BURANO

ISLAND OF BURANO

VENICE

VENICE

VENICE BY NIGHT

ISLAND OF SAN GIULIO, LAKE ORTA

NAVIGLI, MILAN

NAVIGLI, MILAN

Lake Como . . . not off the beaten path but still beautiful.

View of Lake Como from Varenna

View of Lake Como from Varenna

 Quel ramo del lago di Como, che volge a mezzogiorno, tra due catene non interrotte di monti, tutto a seni e golfi, a seconda dello sporgere e del rientrare di quelli, vien, quasi a un tratto, a ristringersi, e a prender corso e figura di fiume, tra un promontorio a destra, e un’ampia costiera dall’altra parte; e il ponte, che ivi congiunge le due rive, par che renda ancor più sensibile all’occhio questa trasformazione, e segni il punto in cui il lago cessa, e l’Adda rincomincia, per ripigliar poi nome di lago dove le rive, allontanandosi di nuovo, lascian l’acqua distendersi e rallentarsi in nuovi golfi e in nuovi seni… ” (Alessandro Manzoni, from I Promessi Sposi) – translation at the bottom –

How could I have forgotten how beautiful Lake Como is! Perhaps it’s because last time I was there I went to purchase seta (silk) for my wedding dress. I guess my mind was too preoccupied occupied to pay much attention to the beauty of my surroundings. Are you wondering why I was in Lake Como to buy silk? The city of Como, sitting on the edge of the lake, began the art of silk weaving back in 1510. Como, still nowadays is regarded as the “City of silk”. An educational museum dedicated to the silk has been instituted in Como in 1985.

Lake Como is lake of glacial origin located in the region of Lombardia. It‘s the third largest lake in Italy, it’s shaped as an upside-down “Y” where the two arms are surrounded by the pre-Alps. Already a popular destination for aristocrats since Roman times,  in the last twenty years it has become a very popular tourist destination. I have always been looking for spots “off the beaten path” , so I had not returned to Lake Como until this past September. Our destination on Lake Como was Bellagio, which we reached driving along the East branch of the lake from Lecco. Unlike the West branch which is dotted with many beautiful villas, palaces, and gardens, here the landscape is dominated by mountain ranges and rocks. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy that day and I could not take good pictures (and the ones I did take, I did from the moving car’s window); however, the scenery was fascinating and I was happy to have returned to Lake Como.

Lake Como East branchLake Como East branchLake Como East branch

In Bellagio, my husband and I were guests of the Hotel Belvedere . . . just beautiful!

Hotel Belvedere

The Hotel Belvedere

The hotel sits up on the hill overlooking the lake, it is away from the summer crowd yet, it is at walking distance from the town center and the lake boardwalk. The Hotel Belvedere has a long history, it was established in 1880 when it was called “La Vignetta” and it was managed by the owner’s daughter Maria Gilardoni, who later took the reins of the property. Signora Maria transformed the small “locanda” into a comfortable hotel that was renamed ” Belvedere“. The Hotel has since gone through several restoration, enlargement and modernization projects and today it is a beautiful hotel with 59 rooms and 5 suites. The hotel has two restaurants, one inside and one outside on the terrace, both offer amazing views of the lake. I would have loved enjoying one of my meals outside, but unfortunately the weather had other plans for me . . . rainy and cold. The hotel also offers a pool surrounded by garden terraces, an infinity Jacuzzi pool, a SPA, and a library/media room.

The view from the restaurantThe terrace restaurantThe restaurant

The barThe lounge

Most importantly, the hotel is today at its fifth generation of beautiful and tenacious women who have been running this family business

While the weather was gloomy and cold, my husband and I received the warmest welcome by  Signora Chiara Mauri and Hotel manager Signora Laura Molinari, who were both stylish, professional, cordial, and proud of their establishment. Mrs. Molinari was sincerely apologetic about the fact that all lakefront rooms were booked and kindly invited us to be guests of the hotel restaurant for dinner. The hotel decor offers the right combination of classic and contemporary where pastel colors and bold greens and red coexist in perfect harmony. The atmosphere is relaxing and warm. Our room was comfortable and tastefully furnished and decorated, fresh cookies and a small book with a personal welcome note by Mrs. Molinari were awaiting on the desk and I could have not been happier with the side view of the lake from our balcony . . .perfect!

Views from my balconyIMG_3118

The views from the hotel ground were magnificent and even in the mist, rain, and wind Bellagio looked beautiful as my husband and I walked along the lake and under the “portico” dotted with nice shops, bars and café. Yes, it’s true Bellagio it’s touristy, but nonetheless charming.

porticoporticostreetsViewviewstreetthe laketerraceview

And it’s true that George Clooney may be bothered by the paparazzi, but it is also true that the locals are not at all trilled with the hype either. A shop’s owner expressed her discontent to the fact that most tourists ask about Clooney’s address rather than advises on the true beautiful places to visit such as Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, Villa Melzi‘s Garden in Bellagio or Villa del Balbianello in Lenno. How many know that in Bellagio, Villa Serbelloni hosts the Rockfeller Foundation Bellagio Center, which operates a conference center and a residency program for scholars, artists, scientists, writers, musicians, and policymakers from around the world?

Villa SerbelloniRockefeller Bellagio Center

When our umbrella could not handle any more rain and wind, we headed back to the hotel were I treated myself to a relaxing pedicure while my husband enjoyed an aperitivo doing some work in the comfy library.

Library

The library and media room

We were delighted to accepted Mrs. Molinari’s invitation for dinner. The experience was lovely; the atmosphere was relaxing, the service  impeccable, and the food was very good and nicely presented. My beef filet was juice and flavorful while the Langhe hazelnut crème brulè was a perfect ending to the day. Our waitress was knowledgeable and suggested a regional wine – Prugnolo DOC 2006 from the Rainoldi winery based in the Valtellina area-  that we were not familiar with . . . it turned out to be an excellent choice. I later learned that the wine is named after a stone fruit – native of the vineyard area – bearing blackthorn.

beef filetwine

The next morning we were blessed with mild temperature and the sun was soon to come out. While enjoying the spectacular view, we had a plentiful breakfast from the widespread buffet which included freshly baked croissants and fruit tart along with savory options.

breakfastcrostatasavory

After breakfast, taking advantage of the weather, we enjoyed the hotel outdoor space and visited the SPA facility which was quite impressive, especially the view from the relaxation room.

IMG_3138IMG_3140IMG_3136IMG_3134

DSC_0060DSC_0057

The poolChromotherapy showers

The SPA relaxation room!

The SPA relaxation room

Another stroll throughout Bellagio and some shopping (shoes, of course) were a must prior to boarding the ferry to Varenna, a small picturesque town set between the lake and the mountains.

DSC_0067DSC_0077DSC_0078DSC_0080DSC_0079IMG_3161IMG_3157IMG_3158

The ferry ride to Varenna is only 15 minutes and you enjoy beautiful views of the mountains and the coastline.

DSC_0080IMG_3168IMG_3173IMG_3172IMG_3174IMG_3176

Once in Varenna, a coastline walk takes you from the dock to the town center, the lake beach, and then uphill to the Church of San Giorgio.

VarennaDSC_0105DSC_0111DSC_0165DSC_0114

We walked up and down narrow alleys, climbed many steps and shopped at a charming handmade pottery souvenirs shop.

DSC_0148IMG_3209IMG_3205IMG_3200IMG_3201DSC_0132IMG_3215IMG_3221DSC_0134DSC_0137IMG_3218DSC_0157

Finally we had lunch at the restaurant Vecchia Varenna. The restaurant is housed into a 1400s building which was originally a laboratory of black marble of Varenna. We ate on the restaurant covered terrace right on the lake and it was amazing . . . both the setting and the food. My husband and I shared an antipasto of Marinated Agone filet (a fresh water fish), a Risotto al Prosecco and scimudin (a soft cheese from the Valtellina area), and a Zabaglione (sabayon) . . . everything was divine but I especially liked the Risotto.

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Time to ride the ferry back to Bellagio, to take in some more beautiful views and to say thank you and good bye to Signora Mauri and Signora Molinari and the Hotel Belvedere for a memorable stay . . . we can’t wait to be back!

IMG_3243IMG_3244DSC_0185DSC_0186DSC_0208DSC_0206

Time to head to our next destination: Civita di Bagnoregio . . . stay tuned!

° Translation:  ” That branch of the lake of Como which extends southwards between two unbroken chains of mountains, and is all gulfs and bays as the mountains advance and recede, narrows down at one point, between a promontory on one side and a wide shore on the other, into the form of a river; and the bridge which links the two banks seems to emphasize this transformation even more, and to mark the point at which the lake ends and the Adda begins, only to become a lake once more where the banks draw farther apart again, letting the water broaden out and expand into new creeks and bays…” (Alessando Manzoni, from The Betrothed)

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry

It must be my background as an architect but I can honestly see geometry everywhere!

Hope you will enjoy my selections for this week photo challenge.

Firenze

Firenze

Paestum

Paestum

Venezia

Amalfi

Burano

And with this post I am signing off for two weeks . . . heading to China tomorrow! Ciao…

A Fall recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Fontina Fonduta

It’s warm and creamy and delicious … keep reading you will love it!

Today I am giving you a break from my Italy trip journal and I am sharing one of my favorite Fall dish: Risotto di zucca con fonduta di Fontina (Butternut squash risotto with Fontina cheese sauce).

Fontina is a typical cheese from the Italian region of Valle d’Aosta. Fonduta is a variation of the classic cheese Fondue.

It ‘s a classic Italian pumpkin risotto in which I substituted the pumpkin with butternut squash. Also, while in a typical risotto recipe you add butter at the end to “mantecare” (final step to make it creamy), I added Fontina cheese sauce instead.

I did not inherited this recipe, I don’t  remember my mother ever using pumpkin in a recipe. My mom was from Naples and the Risotto alla zucca (pumpkin risotto) is typical of Northern Italy so, although she wasn’t opposed to recipes out of her comfort zone, zucca was not in her repertoire. I honestly don’t particularly enjoy the pumpkin’s taste myself; I find it too sweet. However, I have been substituting pumpkin with butternut squash in all pumpkin based recipes (including pumpking gnocchi and pumpkin ravioli) and my family and I enjoy its milder and nuttier flavor.

In a previous post I told you that risotto is one of my favorite dish to prepare and I have shared the recipe of my Shrimp Risotto. I also explained that risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe and I have mentioned that the variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. This variety has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risottoCarnaroli and Arborio, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

One of my brother’s client in Novara – one of the main area of rice production in Italy – asked me to test a Vialone Nano of his production. The name is ECORÌ and it is an eco-friendly rice.

I tried the rice and I liked it; it cooked nicely and the final product was very creamy. The problem is that I doubt I will find this rice in my area so: “dear friend at ECORÌ, I would love a case of rice!”

Ricetta

Risotto alla zucca con fonduta di Fontina

Cosa serve ( What you need) for 4 people

For the risotto

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 medium onion finely chopped

1 shallot finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio

1 butternut squash peeled seeded and cubed (about 1-1/2 pound)

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt

Black pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

6 cups vegetable broth

For the fonduta

2 oz. Fontina cheese cubed

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Cosa fare (What to do)

First prepare the fonduta. While you are preparing the fonduta, bring 6 cups of vegetable broth to boil and keep it hot; you will use it for the risotto.

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over the low heat, and whisk in the flour until well blended.

  • Slowly add the milk, whisking until the mixture thickens slightly.

  • Add the Fontina, the Parmigiano- Reggiano, and the nutmeg and stir until to combine. The result has to be smooth, silky, and slightly thick sauce.

  • Season with salt and pepper, cover the sauce with plastic wrap and set aside.

Preparing the risotto.

  • In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and  half butter with the onion and the shallot.

  • Once the onion has softened add the butternut squash, salt, and pepper and cook until the squash cooks to a purée.

  • Move the purée around the sides of the pan to create a large hot spot in the middle. Add the remaining butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of squash.
  • Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the butter.

  • When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates. At the same time start incorporating the purée into the rice. Start adding 1/2 cup of hot broth at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

  • Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

  • Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.
  • When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the fonduta until it is all blended with the risotto. Add 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Regiano and give it one more stir.

  • Plate into individual bowls, top with Parmigiano and garnish with fried sage leaves (oops, I burned my sage so I used a fresh leaf instead!).

As promised here it is my perfect Risotto, warm, creamy, flavorful and delicious . . . buon appetito!

Which one is your favorite Fall recipe?

Related post: If it’s Friday . . . it’s Pesce!