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

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign . . . A new photo gallery from Italy

These weekly photo challenges could have not come at a better time. Having taken thousands of pictures during my recent trip in Italy the photo challenges give me the opportunity to share some of my favorite images with you.

I hope you will enjoy today’s selection. And as always, I would love to hear which one is your favorite.

Coffee shop in Milan

Ice cream shop in Milan

Milan

Barolo

Grissini Torinesi

City Hall of Neive

Venice

Caffe Vergnano in Venice since 1882

Fagioli and Finocchi at Rialto Market, Venice

Giuggiole at Rialto Market, Venice

Rialto Fish Market, Venice

Rialto fish market, Venice

Sarde and sardine at Rialto fish market, Venice

Wine shop, Venice

Venitian mask’ shop, Venice

Trattoria al gatto Nero, Burano

Merceria in Bellagio

Caffe Pansa, Amalfi

My two weeks in Italy. A day in BAROLO

Coming back from two weeks in Italy I have been overwhelmed with housekeeping duties, Italian language classes, my son’s ENGAGMENT (super exciting!!!!), and a nasty cold. I am finally feeling better, I am almost back to my regular schedule and I am looking forward to share highlights of my wonderful trip.

There were two main reasons for this trip: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family and to celebrate my mother in law 90th birthday!

Both celebrations were terrific and it was wonderful to share such special occasions with the people I love.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to discover new destinations to share on my blog and with my clients.

My travel journal will be published in several parts, I will give an introduction to each post but I will mostly let my pictures speak . . . it’s the least I can do since I have taken probably 2000 pictures! Do you know how difficult it is to sort through them all and narrow down to a manageable number to publish? Very hard!!!

I hope you will enjoy this virtual journey almost as much I enjoyed the real thing!

My first stop is BAROLO, a small community perched on a hill of the Langhe area, in the Italian region of Piemonte.

From Novara – where my trip started and where my brothers live – heading to Barolo, the landscape dramatically changes from plains of rice fields to hills and valleys where lush and ordered vineyards separate each hilltop communities.

It is indeed from these vineyards that some of the best Italian vini (wines) are produced. The charming community of Barolo shares its name with one of these wines, which also happens to be my favorite Italian vino rosso (red wine).

The town of Barolo has two castelli (castles): in the town center, the Castello Falletti  and on the ridge the Castello della Volta.

The Falletti family originally owned them both, however, the Castello della Volta is currently owned by a private winery and the Castello Falletti is owned by the city of Barolo. The Castello Falletti today houses the Wine Museum and the Regional Enoteca of Barolo. The Enoteca (wine house) is divided into three sections:  an exhibit of Barolo wines produced by the wineries of the 11 municipalities in area of origin of the wine, a tasting area, and a selling area.

While the expansive views from the third floor terrace of the Castello Falletti are worth the museum fee (7 euro), I did not personally enjoyed the museum.

The multimedia exhibits seemed meaningless and infantile, the static scenes with thousands of words to read were not very informative. There were no real information on the winemaking history of the region and some displays were so absurd that make my husband and me laugh. My advise is to go to the museum only if you are traveling with children, they might enjoy this “theme park” museum.

Just outside the museum is the Museo dei cavatappi (corkscrew museum), which I think I would have enjoyed better.

One of the purposes of my trip to Barolo was to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo.

Although the community of Barolo houses around 38 wine makers, I decided to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo because of their ancient history and tradition.

The history of this winery dates back to the 1806 when the Marchese Falletti di Barolo married Juliette Colbert .  The Marchesa’ s main interest was charity, however, she also showed a great interest and dedication to the vineyard and its territory. It was in fact the joined efforts of the Marchesa and the Count Camillo Benso, along with the technical advice of a French winemaker, Count Oudart, that created the first wine Barolo (the name was given by the Marchesa to honor the town). With the death of Marchesa Juliette in 1864, the line of succession became extinct and the property was left to the benevolent foundation of the Opera Pia Barolo. In the late 19th century, Pietro Abbona acquired the vineyards bringing the Barolo wine to today’s fame. Today the Cantine Marchesi di Barolo is run by the fifth generation of the Abbona family.

The winery of Marchesi di Barolo controls 110 hectares of vineyards from which it produces around 1,500,000 bottles of wine. The winery produces Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba, Roero Arneis, Gavi, Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.

Knowing that I would have been in the area during the time of the Vendemmia (harvesting and wine making), I had contacted the winery to arrange for a private tour and to assist to the wine making process. My 40 years old memories of the vendemmia in my sister in law’s small vineyard were very different from the efficient and mechanized processed that I  witnessed in Barolo. Less folklorist maybe, but non-the less fascinating.

At the winery, Ms. Cristina welcomed my husband and me. Cristina would then spend the following hour and a half giving us a very informative and interesting tour. Entering the facility we found ourselves into a vast roofed courtyard   We walked into the courtyard just in time to witness the first step of wine making: in the center of the courtyard  is a very large steel tub; into this tub, the freshly harvested grapes are unloaded from the truck. The grapes are still harvested by hand; the first grapes to be harvested are usually the one for Moscato wine and Asti spumante (sparkling wine). The last one is usually the Nebbiolo, whose harvesting often coincide with the first “nebbia” (fog) of the season hence the name Nebbiolo. 

A duct, connected to the tub, transports the grapes from the courtyard level to the lower level cellars. There the grapes go directly into a pigiatrice (crusher) where the raspi (stems) are removed and the acini (grapes) are crashed to obtain mosto (grape juice).

The juice travels to the outdoor fermentini (steel ferments vats) for the first fermentation.

Fermentini

Cristina explained that all red wines go through a second fermentation, which takes place into concrete barrels. Also into this barrels the Dolcetto wine is kept until bottling. This type of wine in fact doesn’t require aging and goes to the market in the spring following the harvest.

Following Cristina’s lead we walked through the cellars were we first passed by a row of enormous Slovenian oak barrels.

In these barrels, the Barolo, after the second fermentation, is affinato (aged) for 3 years prior to its affinamento (aging) in bottles for 2 years. These barrels hold 24,666.66 liters of wine . . . that’s a lot of wine! Cristina explained that originally the barrels held 18,500 liters, but since every 10-15 years the barrels go through a cleaning/restoration process, during which 1-4 millimeters are scrubbed off, the barrels have overtime increased their capacity.

While walking through the cellar Cristina familiarized us with the different type of wines, the variety of screw, the geographical location of the vines, and the CRU. Do you know what is a CRU? I didn’t. Now I know that the CRU indicates that a wine is produced with the grapes coming only from one geographical vine, therefore more valuable. Connubbi, Sarmassa, and Coste di Rose are the three Barolo CRUS produced by the winery.

We then walked by rows of stainless steel barrels, these are for the Moscato d’Asti. The Moscato d’Asti is a white, sweet sparkling wine low in alcohol (5 %) To preserve the low alcoholic grade, the temperature in the barrels is kept at 0 degrees celsius (32 F) to prevent fermentation. The temperature is raised just before bottling and going to the market. I found very funny that on the wine catalog the Moscato is described as “ thirst-quenching wine at any time of the day, especially after sport activities”  . . . I guess I would hit the gym more often if I could have a glass of Moscato d’Asti afterwards! Now I understand why the waitress at the winery’s restaurant told us that the owners refer to this Moscato as “our mineral water”, but the staff refers to it is as “our Gatorade” !

Back to our tour, the next stop was in the Historic cellars, dating back to the 1820. Here is where the most important wines, from Barbaresco to Barolo, age.

Here is also where the “Botti della Marchesa” are located. They are 5 historic barrels, 150 years old; it was into these barrels that, under the Marchesa Juliette supervision, the first Barolo was born.

Botti della Marchesa

In 2003 these barrels went through an extensive restoration process, which brought them back to the old glory. Click here if you would like to see pictures of the restoration process.

These historic barrels unlike the new one, present an exterior frame to support the pressure from the wine.

In the new barrels, the concave shape of the front provides the support to the pressure from the wine.

The Brenta, the historic basket used to transport approximately 53 kg. of grapes from the vineyard to the cellar.

Interesting fact about this winery is that the bottling takes place in a nearby cellar; 800 meters of underground pipes transport the wine from the cellar to the bottling location.

Back to the courtyard, Cristina took us to the Barriques cellar.

Barriques is a term to indicate small barrels (225 liters) used for aging particular wines (Estates) and to enhance distillates such as grappa.

The Barriques are made from French oak, medium toasted. The lifecycle of the Barriques is only 3-4 years, which is when they stop releasing their aroma.

Our last stop is into the private collection and the “enoteca storica” (historic enoteca or wine library).

The enoteca houses about 35.000 bottles including a bottle of Barolo “Connubbio” 1859, the first bottled Barolo.

Our tour with Cristina was wonderful and to top the day a lunch tasting menu with wine pairing was expecting us! The winery’s restaurant, Foresteria, has two rooms, both elegant and finely furnished. Our table, tastefully prepared and adorned with grissini Torinesi, was set across the large window overlooking the Barbera vineyard.

We had the full attention of our waitress, Celina, who was delightful and knowledgeable of both the dishes and the wine.  The menu featured typical dishes from the region (Piemonte). Each one tasted as amazing as it looked and it was perfectly paired with some of the best wines I have tasted. Just a wonderful experience!

MENU

Antipasto (apetizer):

Girello di Fassone scottato sotto sale e servito con salsa tonnata vecchia maniera (Fassone is a cattle breed native of the Piemonte region – served with traditional tuna sauce)
&
Flan di carote (Carrots Flan)

Wine: Madonna di Como – Dolcetto d’Alba

Primo Piatto ( First Course):

Agnolottini del Plin ai tre arrosti conditi con burro di malga e salvia.

Wine: Paigal – Barbera d’Alba

Secondo Piatto (Second course):

Brasato al Barolo con contorno di stagione

Wine: Cannubbi – Barolo

Dolce (Dessert)

Panna cotta – Salame dolce – Pera cotta al Moscato

Wine: Zagara – Moscato d’Alba

Time for caffè and schiaccia-caffè (expression used to refer to digestive coming after coffee), the house digestivo (digestive), Barolo Chinato that is produced from a base of Barolo wine aged at least 4 years and the maceration of aromatics including quinine bark (in Italian, china).

The aromatics for the production of Barolo Chinato

After lunch we took some time to visit the wine shop where Ms. Ivana offered us a bicchierino (shot) of grappa di Barolo . . . of course my husband couldn’t refuse!

The wine tasting room is also located here where friendly and knowledgeable staff will make sure you truly enjoy your experience. Along with the wine, the shop also sells local specialties like canned vegetables, fruit jams, cookies and chocolates.

Of course I could not leave without bringing home a bottle of Barolo and Ms. Ivana, kindly, also gifted me with a bottle of Moscato d’Alba.

Waiting now for the perfect occasion to enjoy them both. Uhm . . .  I guess my son’s engagement party would be a perfect occasion!

Many thanks to the staff at the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo for a wonderful day!

CIAO DA BAROLO!!!

Remember that if you visit Barolo in October will also enjoy the superb Tartufo bianco d’Alba (white truffle)!

Which one is your favorite Italian wine?

National Pie Day. . . My Pear Pie

Just a few days ago, browsing a newspaper, I learned that today, January 23 is National Pie Day.

I don’t consider the pie as one of the most typical Italian dessert; Fruit crostata (tart) and jam tart are more common. Once, however, I read about this National Pie Day I decided to investigate a little further.

Through the American Pie Council, I learned that the first pies were made by early Romans who, also, published the first pie recipe.The early pies were mostly meat pies.

I shall always remember the first meat pies I was invited to taste on my first visit to London. I was my uncle and aunt’s guest. My aunt is English; She is a great cook, in fact , she shared with me her recipe of the best cauliflower dish I have ever had. Her roast beef is out of this world, still, the meat pie was hard to swallow. Sorry aunt Margharet!

Back to history, it  appears that fruit pies or tarts were probably first made in the 1500s. The credit for the first cherry pies goes to the English who made it for Queen Elizabeth I. Indeed, the English settlers were the first to bring the pie to America where, over the years, it has become the most traditional dessert.

How lucky am I! Being Italian and living in the USA, I celebrate Italian holidays and traditions, but I also embrace American celebrations, although always in Italian style. The National Pie Day has given me the opportunity to pay homage to yet another American tradition, and at the same time, to discover a new Italian recipe.

When I cook, my goal is always to use seasonal ingredients, so, to celebrate National Pie Day, I have baked a Charlotte di pere (Pear Pie), a traditional recipe of the Italian region of Piemonte. The name Charlotte, derives from  French. The region of Piemonte, prior to the unification of Italy, has been in the orbit of the French House of Savoy for more than 800 years; The long French domination certainly had a great influence on the regional gastronomy, which indeed, borrows many traditions and terms from the nearby Country.

The recipe I used is  from  “La Cucina, the regional cooking of Italy”, by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. I am very passionate about Italian regional cuisine and I find this cookbook a great resource.

The uniqueness of this pie is that the fruit is cooked in wine. I started my pie while my son was perplexedly observing what I was doing. He is always very concerned when I use  wine in my recipes; once, however, the aroma of the fruit and the cooking wine started to diffuse throughout the kitchen, the concerns and doubts dissipated. The final result was certainly proof that wine can do wonders!

Being this a recipe from Piemonte, it is not surprising that Barolo is the suggested wine to use. Barolo is actually one of my favorite Italian wine. It is, however, a pricey wine, especially in USA . A great alternative for this recipe is the Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape is used for the production of Barolo), still a hearty, high quality wine, but more affordable. Nebbiolo is what I used. Of course, you can substitute with a hearty wine of your choice and liking.

Happy Pie Day!!!

Ricetta Charlotte di Pere

Pear Pie Recipe

For the short pastry:

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/4 cup sugar

7 oz (14 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

4 extralarge egg yolks

1/4 cup chilled Marsala wine(sweet)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pinch of salt

For the filling:

2 lbs. pears (possibly Seckel), cored but not peeled and cut in half lengthwise. If using larger pear cut into quarters.

1 and 1/4 cup pitted prunes (original recipe is 1 and 3/4 cups. I thought was too much)

1 rhubarb stalk (this is my personal addition to the recipe), washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups of Nebbiolo (original recipe uses Barolo. Other hearty red wine will do)

5 tablespoon sugar

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch ground cloves

1 pinch of salt

Directions:

Prepare the short pastry: cold ingredients are essential to making a pie crust. Sift together the flour, the sugar and the salt. Transfer into the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and process without overworking the dough.

Stir in the eggs, Marsala and lemon zest until the dough comes together.

Transfer to a surface dusted with flour and quickly knead the dough for 1 minute, form a ball and then flatten it.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the filling: In a large pan, combine the pears, prunes, rhubarb, wine, lemon zest, sugar, spices and salt. Cook on medium heat until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup and the pears are tender (you don’t want the pear to fall apart).

Preheat the oven at 350 degree. Butter a deep pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line the pie dish. Trim the dough to 1 inch over hang. The dough might break while you transfer to the pie dish. It is, however, easy to patch with extra dough (from the picture you can see that my dough broke in several pieces).

Fill the pie crust with the cooked fruit and liquid.

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the fruit. Seal the edges with your fingers. With the index finger on one hand, press the dough against the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand; continue around the perimeter of the crust and dish. ( I am still perfecting this skill!)

Lastly cut slits in the center of the crust to vent steam.

Position your pie dish in the lower third of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. You may have to cover the edges with foil to avoid overbrowning the edges ( I cover mine during last 15 minute, a little earlier however, would have been better).

Cool the pie and serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream!