Piedmont, Italy: Monferrato’s Slow Food, Wine & Truffles

Motoring through Italy’s Piemonte or Piedmont region, I sometimes felt as though I’d been whisked back in time a few decades, perhaps even centuries. The dramatic hills of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato districts were wrapped with rows of grapevines and orchards, crowned with handsome fortresses, and dotted with villages wearing terra-cotta rooftops. Large-scale industry was largely absent from this swathe of the Northern Italian landscape, and that’s much of what made it so visually-appealing.

With just weeks to go before the 2015 grape and white truffle harvests, the enthusiasm among the locals was already palpable. Together with our local guide, Marco from Meet Piemonte, Shawn and I would spend two days exploring pockets of Piedmont. This article highlights our time in the Monferrato district, to include the city of Asti, home to the famous Palio horserace, plus wine-tasting and truffle hunting excursions in the countryside. An upcoming post in this series will focus upon the nearby Langhe-Roero hills, including the elegant city of Alba.

Continue reading “Piedmont, Italy: Monferrato’s Slow Food, Wine & Truffles”

Growing Together: Moldova’s Family-Run Et Cetera Winery

 

For years, we had our sights set on participating in a grape harvest. As the golden months of the summer of 2014 dwindled, and Europe’s grapes grew plumper and riper, we decided to meander to Moldova to meet the newest vintage. It’s said that a whopping 25% of Moldova’s working population is involved in winemaking, and we instantly sensed this upon our arrival in the Eastern European country. Much of the autumnal landscape was dotted with vineyards, grape motifs favored heavily on the village architecture, and winemakers of the amateur and professional sort abounded. One of our first nights in the country, locals spotted us strolling the streets of a quiet village, and asked us if we wanted to try a glass of wine at their home. (Of course we said yes!) This warm extension of hospitality would continue for nearly one month, even as we hopped from locale to locale. Sometimes we were offered golden bunches of grapes, while at other moments we were given a generous glass of homemade wine.

Continue reading “Growing Together: Moldova’s Family-Run Et Cetera Winery”

Mouth-Watering Modena: A Cooking Class in Italy

 

“Secrets, especially with cooking, are best shared so that the cuisine lives on.”

– Bo Songvisava

After kicking off with a rich shot of espresso, we slipped into black ‘Chef for a Day’ aprons for the beginning of our cooking class in Modena, Italy. In strolled our instructor, Chef Massimiliano ‘Max’ Telloli of the Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant, wearing a kelly green chef’s hat, a warm smile, and an enthusiastic willingness to share Emilia-Romagnan cuisine with us. We discovered that Chef Max is a Modena native, longtime gluten-free consultant, award-winning chef, and cookbook author. We also couldn’t help but noticing that Chef Max bears a striking resemblance to the American actor, Gary Sinise. :)

Quickly, we learned that one secret behind Chef Max’s tasty cuisine is his use of quality, rich ingredients.

“Each week, we use about 5 kg. (11 pounds) of butter, and 200 eggs at the restaurant,” he mentioned, as he set aside the ingredients for our first dish, a Soufflé di Parmigiano.

Continue reading “Mouth-Watering Modena: A Cooking Class in Italy”

Edible Art: The Fresh Market of Modena, Italy

In some ways, the Mercato Albinelli in Modena, Italy is less like a covered market and more like a gallery showcasing fine art. One artist exhibits his prize, plump strawberries; another her handmade golden tortelloni; while another puts the finishing touches on links of sausage.

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ― George Bernard Shaw

During our shopping missions at this fresh market in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region so renowned for its Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Ferraris and Maserati motors, everyone seemed to be plain cheery. Bakers dished out free samples of thick, braided breadsticks to hungry children. Merchants’ wide, genuine smiles squished their faces in such a fashion that their eyes were nearly concealed. And a wooly, brown and white dog even took time to smell the flowers.

The atmosphere was undeniably happy. An outgoing baker named Enzo welcomed Shawn with a complimentary, lightly-sweetened Tortelli Forno. As I snapped a picture of an overflowing basket of luscious sun-dried tomatoes, another friendly gentleman stopped by. Initially worried that he thought I was trying to covertly capture him in the frame, the man pointed to himself playfully, insisting that I do include him. He was proud to tell us that he was in his nineties.

Continue reading “Edible Art: The Fresh Market of Modena, Italy”

Delicious History: Zinfandel Wine & Octopus Peka in Kaštela, Croatia

 

As our friend’s car propelled us up the jagged slopes of Kozjak Mountain in Croatia’s Dalmatia region, we struggled to steady our cameras enough to document the increasingly-magnificent view. Simultaneously fearing for the health of my friend’s tires which risked being ruptured on the rocky dirt road, I marveled at the panorama along this stretch of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. In the late-afternoon sunlight, the Adriatic Sea twinkled, and despite technically being wintertime, it called us to take a plunge. The limestone hills overlooking seaside Split and Kaštela wore a blend of foliage. Some trees sported withering, rust-colored leaves from the past season, and others prematurely exhibited pastel blooms and berries. As our Croatian friends had been telling us for weeks, the winter had been unusually warm, raising concern that the flora would be adversely impacted should another cold snap roll in. Given that so many locals dabble in the Mediterranean tradition of winemaking and olive oil production, this did not come as a surprise.

Continue reading “Delicious History: Zinfandel Wine & Octopus Peka in Kaštela, Croatia”

Krolo Winery: Slow Food & Wine in the Croatian Countryside

 

In a cozy country winery near the town of Trilj, where Croatia’s Continental and Mediterranean climates meet, winemaker Dražan Krolo is making magic with Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Zinfandel grapes.

Together, with our friend, Srđan of the Art of Wine, we journeyed to the Krolo’s country home in the Dalmatian hinterland not far from coastal Split, to meet the Krolo family, taste their wonderful wine, Pašticada & Gnocchi (recipe below), fresh cheese, and catch a glimpse of life in the Croatian countryside.

Continue reading “Krolo Winery: Slow Food & Wine in the Croatian Countryside”

Cooking with Class in Santorini: Discovering the Greek Island’s Unique Gastronomy

 

As we bid farewell to our charismatic Greek cooking class Sous-Chef, Daniel, he shared parting culinary wisdom with a twinkle in his eye:

“Use your imagination and everything is possible. And remember – you needn’t measure – you must feel the taste.”

We’d come to the elegant, highly-acclaimed Selene restaurant on sun-drenched Santorini, Greece. We would spend the day learning about the island, its Cycladic neighbors, and their unique produce, cheese and wine. We would then try our hands at some of Selene’s trademark recipes and as a reward, savor what we’d prepared. As we strolled out into the Santorini sunlight after our cooking class and lunch, utterly relaxed, with creatively-stimulated minds and taste buds, we reflected on what an exemplary day it had been.

Continue reading “Cooking with Class in Santorini: Discovering the Greek Island’s Unique Gastronomy”

Culinary Diplomacy Through Spanakopita in Meteora, Greece

For the past five nights, we’ve been staying at a quaint guesthouse overlooking the mystical Meteora rock formations in northern Greece. Six mighty monasteries sit atop the unusual rocks. Some of the structures date back to the 14th century.

As if things couldn’t get any better, our hostess and Greek mother for the week has been surprising us with culinary treats from her kitchen: salads drizzled with olive oil, homemade French fries, omelets with slices of traditional sausage, candied figs, milk custard pie, and, drumroll… the spinach and feta cheese pie known in Greek as spanakopita.

Continue reading “Culinary Diplomacy Through Spanakopita in Meteora, Greece”