Cassoeula – Braised Pork and Cabbage from Lombardia

cassoeula private bike tours lombardia italyThe region of Lombardia lies in northern Italy, sharing a border with Switzerland to the north, Piedmont to the west, the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige to the east, and Emilia-Romagna to the south. We are designing a private cycling tour for a group that wishes to ride from Milan to Venice, and so I once again find myself immersing in the region we are visiting – its food, wine and history.

cabbage carrots private bike tours italyCassoeula is a traditional dish in Lombardia. Also known as cazzoeula, it takes its name from the word cazza, or pan, in which it is prepared. A great Sunday afternoon dinner, or a nice way of warming up after a ski day, cassoeula is a hearty stew of cabbage and pork, served with polenta.

cassoeula on stove private bike tours lombardia italyLocal lore associates cassoeula with the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, the 17th of January, which also was the end of the pig slaughtering period. For the poorest farmers with only one pig to see them through the year, nothing would go to waste – their version of this dish would include the poorest parts of the pig; the feet, the head, the ‘pins’ or bony parts of the ribs (not the chops), the pork rinds, or crackling, and the favorite local sausage. Wealthier families would make a ‘richer’ version, and use the leg; nowadays, depending upon where you are in Lombardia, you may find versions using beef, lamb, even goose.

cut cabbage private ski tours italyThe single common element between these versions today is cabbage. Traditionally, this would be cabbage that has seen the first frost, which softens it and shortens the cooking time. Combine all this with the classic braising ingredients – carrots, celery, onions, wine and broth, and serve with a soft polenta (recipe here.)

pork ingredients bike tours lombardia italyMy version below is one of these richer versions, as pig’s head and feet are not easily found in modern markets. But this is simple to adapt to accommodate any cuts you can find. I used a pork butt, pork ribs, a locally made sausage, and a bacon end. I liked the idea of some crackling to add texture, so I cut the bacon end into strips and cooked them until crisp, adding them at the end so they remain crisp. This is a great dish for a winter dinner with friends, make it the day before as it improves with time.

bacon ends private ski tours italyServe with a hearty Nebbiolo wine from the Valtellina region in Lombardia, the only area outside of Piedmont to produce a Nebbiolo based wine.

Cassoeula

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 rack pork ribs
2 lbs. pork butt
4 pork sausages
1 bacon end, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/4” dice
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into 1/4” dice
1 small onion, cut into 1/4” dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup white wine
2 heads cabbage, coarsley chopped
2 cups beef broth

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or other large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the pork ribs and sear all sides. Set aside. Repeat, searing the pork butt and then the pork sausages until all are nicely browned on all sides, using more olive oil if needed. Set aside.

Add the chopped bacon ends and saute until the fat is rendered and the bacon is slightly crisp. Add the carrot, celery and onion, and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the white wine to the hot pan to deglaze. Cook until the wine is almost evaporated.

Add the chopped cabbage in a layer, stirring to combine with the vegetables. Place the meats on top of the cabbage. Add the beef broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook over low heat for 2-3 hours, until all the meat is tender and falling apart.

Serve with soft polenta.

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Gnocchi alla Ricotta Su Pure di Zucca – Ricotta Gnocchi on Pumpkin Puree

ricotta gnocchi italy private bike toursI am just back from Italy, closing out our season with a private cycling tour. After our guests leave, I usually spend a few days exploring and researching destinations for future tours. Next season we are hosting a private group on a cycling tour that will follow the Sudtirol Wine Road from lovely Bressanone down to Lake Garda. Spending some time in this area means feasting on the typical foods of the mountains, and visiting MANY wonderful wineries lie along this lovely wine trail.

ricotta pumpkin italy private bike toursOne winery I visited had a couple of local cookbooks for sale. I pick up these whenever I can; I continue to discover more about the cuisine of the region, learning both from the traditional recipes as well as more modern versions that the region’s top chefs are introducing. It also gives me the opportunity to practice my Italian a bit, as these are rarely offered in English. Here is my first post from one of these little finds: “Una Montagna di Sapori – Ricette Semplici e Raffinate dell’Alto Adge” – “A Mountain of Flavors – Simple and Refined Recipes from Alto Adige”.

gnocchi dough italy private bike toursThis recipe combined several ingredients I can find now in my nearby farmer’s market. Fresh ricotta, as well as quark. This recipe is the first I’ve seen from Italy that calls for quark, which is different from Italian ricotta (ricotta meaning “recooked” in Italian) as quark is made from sour milk, while ricotta is made from whey. The quark I used was similar in texture to a ricotta, but distinctly more sour and salty. If you don’t find quark, substitute more ricotta. Quark is found more commonly in German speaking countries to the north, so it’s presence here is another demonstration of the influence these northern neighbors play on the cuisine here.

pumpkins at market italy private bike toursThe pumpkin puree is a delightful seasonal sauce for this dish; during our private bike tour we cycled through a wonderful farm where the farmer waved us over to show us his pumpkin harvest – so many types and colors! In the fall, squash and pumpkins appear in a myriad of dishes in Italy, from soups to sformato (savory custard) to stuffed cappellacci pastas to pumpkin breads. The puree here would also be a nice accompaniment to pork.

gnocchi italy private ski toursAs for presentation, my disappointment with my dish was not the flavor, but the monochromatic hues. Next time, I’ll find a pumpkin or squash with a much more vibrant orange color, so the puree really stands out.

Enjoy with a crisp Gewurztraminer from Alto Adige, like those from Elena Walch or Cantina Tramin.

Gnocchi alla Ricotta Su Pure di Zucca – Ricotta Gnocchi on Pumpkin Puree

1/2 small onion, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces ricotta
2 ounces quark
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, grated nutmeg
2/3 cup soft white bread crumbs
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup flour, plus extra for dusting

12 ounces pumpkin, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk
Sprig of oregano or marjoram
1/2 cup whipped cream

1/4 cup grated parmigiano
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Beef demi glace or gravy (optional)

For the gnocchi, place 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saute pan and heat over medium high heat. Add the minced onion and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Remove from heat.

Transfer to a medium size bowl, and combine together with the ricotta, quark, and bread crumbs. Quickly stir in the egg yolks and flour. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Place a light layer of flour on a sheet pan. Dust your hands with a bit of flour. Using a spoon, scoop up about 1 tablespoon or so of the ricotta mixture, and place the spoonful in the palm of your hand. Using your hands, turn the ricotta ball until it is coated with a dusting of flour, then lightly shape it into an oblong dumpling. Don’t worry too much about getting a perfect shape – lumps and bumps are just fine. Place the gnocchi on the sheet pan.

If you are doing this recipe for the first time, or are using a ricotta cheese you haven’t used before, at this point I would recommend you test your first gnocchi to make sure it holds together. You don’t want to shape 80 gnocchi to find out they fall apart when you cook them! Poach the first in a small pot of simmering, not rapidly boiling water; if it holds together, you are good to go. If it blows apart, add a touch more flour.

Continue forming the gnocchi with the remainging ricotta mixture. Let the gnocchi rest in the fridge for 25 minutes.

While the gnocchi is resting, place the remaining olive oil in the saute pan, place again over medium high heat, and brown the pumpkin. Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the milk and add the sprig of oregano, cover and simmer until the pumpkin is tender.

Pull out some of the pumpkin and dice further into small cubes for the final garnish – you want about 2-3 tablespoons for this. Puree the rest of the pumpkin, stir in the whipping cream and keep warm.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. When boiling, add a liberal amount of salt. Turn down to a simmer.

Remove the sheet pan from the refrigerator. Transfer about a quarter of the gnocchi to the boiling water, making sure not to overfill the pot. You will most likely need to cook them in batches. They will sink to the bottom initially, but as they cook will rise to float at the top. Scoop them up as they float, and transfer to the sauté pan with the sauce.

Spread the pure pumpkin on the plates, place the gnocchi on top of the puree and sprinkle with the small cubes of pumpkin. Sprinkle everything with the grated parmigiano cheese and drizzle with melted butter. Garnish with the beef demi glace or gravy.

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Cantina Rotaliana – Teroldego Rotaliana Wine from Trentino

clesurae teroldego rotaliana private bike tours One of the most interesting, and for me the most rewarding, hallmarks of our Bike the Wine Roads tours in Italy is to introduce the unique varietals found in Italy. The Italian wine landscape is amazingly diverse, with over 350 varieties officially documented by the Ministry of Agriculture, and over 500 more in circulation. Italy boasts an immense number of microclimates concentrated in a very small area, and we often find ourselves cycling through a locale in which a favorite traditional wine has found it’s perfect home, an integral part of the regional history and economy, but unheard of elsewhere. One example we find in the northeastern region of Trentino is a wonderful, full-bodied red – Teroldego Rotaliano.

Teroldego is considered the king of Trentino wines. Local legend has it that the name itself derives from Tiroler Gold, the “gold from Tyrol”, which is how this wine was referred to at court in Vienna. However, it actually takes its name from its traditional method of cultivation, in which it is trained on a system of “tirelle” or wire harnesses. Recent DNA analysis has revealed that it is related to the French varietals Dureza and Syrah. Some authorities compare Teroldego to Zinfandel, with its spicy red fruits, but this is not accurate. Its acidity and snap makes it a versatile food wine.

piana custom bike tours italyIt flourishes only in the Piana Rotaliana, or Campo Rotaliano area, an alluvial plain just outside of the city of Trento between the Adige and Noce rivers. This plain possess an excellent microclimate for wine cultivation, which resullts in the specific characteristics of Teroldego – it’s full bodied flavor and rich bouquet. In spite of many efforts to reproduce the vineyards, environment, and irrigation in other regions, no one has successfully replicated these high quality wines anywhere else. For many years, it was used exclusively as a blending wine, mixed with sub-standard grapes to produce an only somewhat drinkable wine. Eventually, the producers realized the benefits of eliminating the inferior grapes and producing a high quality single varietal wine, and we are just beginning to see some of the benefits of this decision. Teroldego wines are quite distinctive, with intense fruit, full body, and a strong, dry taste.

cantina rotaliana private bike toursDuring a recent visit to Trentino, I visited the Cantina Rotaliana in Mezzolombardo. Originally stablished in 1931, the winery’s production facility is now housed in brand new headquarters at the entrance to the town, equipped with the latest wine production equipment. Their objective is to maintain a successful balance between innovation and tradition, with modern facilities still located in the heart of Piana Rotaliana, land specifically suited to the cultivation of Teroldego.

The winery is a collaboration of close to 300 local growers, and produces a nice varied portfolio, with center stage reserved for it’s Teroldego. The Cantina also offers six whites, reds including Merlot, Cabernet and Lagrein, two Champagne sparkling wines produced under the Trentodoc, a red, rose and white blend under the name Thamè, a Gropello based red – another rare indiginous grape varietal from Trentino, and a selection of grappa.

muller thurgau rotaliana private bike toursDuring my visit, I began with a taste of one of their whites, a Muller Thurgau. It’s reputation locally is of a varietal that grows better than any other on high hills, it hails from vineyards belonging to Maso Saracini, on the high hills around Trento, and in Valle di Cembra. It is crisp and clean, with a grassy aroma. It is minerally and well-structured with a long lasting finish.

thame rosato rotaliana private bike toursNext, I sampled one of their Thamè line, this one a rose, a blend of Teroldego and Lagrein, one of my other favorite varietals from Trentino. A perfect wine for a summer afternoon, clean and fresh, and flavors of cherry and berries, and floral notes. The higher acid content makes it a great food wine, pairing well with a cured meat antipasti typical of Trentino, or a vegetable risotto.

teroldego rotaliana private bike toursMoving on to their premier wines, I enjoyed first their 2010 Teroldego Riserva. To earn the “Reserve” designation, the wine must age a minimum of two years. This particular wine spends some of its time in large oak barrels, and the remainder in small oak casks called “barriques”. Redolent with flavors of fresh berries, with a bit of herbs, spice and wood, it exhibits a slightly smoky nose and nicely balanced tannins. Robust and earthy, it offers an authentic feel.

Finally, their starship offering, their Clesuræ Teroldego. The Clesuræ Project, as the winery refers to it, focuses on quality from the vine to the bottle, with the goal to produce a Teroldego wine of international class.

Clesuræ is a Latin term which evokes the ancient times when some open fields, considered the best for wine grape cultivation, were enclosed. Oenologist from the Cantina selected particular vineyards in the heart of the Campo Rotaliano, those known historically for producing the best wines. The vines here have an average age of 45 years. During the growing season, these vines are pruned to reduce the yield, producing grapes much more concentrated in flavor than the standard Teroldego.

During vinification, there are two additional ways in which Clesuræ differs from the traditional Teroldego Rotaliano. First of all, the malo-lactate fermentation process and the aging of this wine happen entirely in barriques (small French oak barrels with a capacity of 225 litres) where Clesuræ stays for 14-16 months. During this time this wine undergoes a series of transformations, due to the oak’s permeability. In fact, the oxygen gradually softens and smoothes the vivacity of this red wine, making it more balanced.After its stay in the barriques the wine spends at least 8-10 months in bottle, again, longer than usual for a Teroldego.

The results were very successful – the 1999 and 2002 obtained one of the most prestigious awards for an Italian wine producer: Tre bicchieri from the Gambero Rosso Guida Vini d’Italia.

Dark ruby red, this has an amazingly spicy and complex nose. Strong flavors of cherry fruit and berries, with notes of plum, oak and earth. A toasty, lingering finish with delightful balanced tannins. An elegant wine that will age well. A very polished wine, that succeeds very well in displaying the true potential of this unique varietal Would pair wonderfully with a hearty braised meat, or sharp aged cheese.

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Strudel di Funghi – Mushroom Strudel

strudel di funghi italiaoutdoors bike tours italyMushrooms are cultivated, found wild, and used in the cuisines of both Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. I’ve just returned from a month visiting both areas, and feasted on many seasonal dishes showcasing the local varieties. Wild mushrooms have been prized since ancient times; the Pharoahs of Egypt controlled their distribution, and they were referred to as “food of the gods” in ancient Rome. Due to the limited growing season of the wild varieties, they were in short supply until the French developed methods to cultivate them. In the late 1800s, entire families from Venice traveled to France to work in the mushroom farms in the caves near Paris, and learn these techniques. These families returned to Italy and began their own mushroom farms. These first farms were located in the caves around Costozza, a town on one of our favorite bike tour routes through the Berici Hills, as these possessed the optimum humidity and temperature for mushroom growth.

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Cycling near Custozza

Caves are also used for cultivation in Trentino-Alto Adige, but the many woodlands of this area are a source of a huge variety of wild mushrooms. There are the well-known wild varieties that are found in the Veneto as well – chanterelles, porcini and chiodini, but also many lesser-known: penny buns caps, pine mushrooms, parasols, russulas, Caesar’s agaric, and even 12 different species of Trentino black truffle.

mushroom forager private bike toursI led a cooking class on two of our recent fall tours, and came up with this recipe to take advantage of the lovely mushrooms found in the local markets in Italy this time of year. We had some wonderful chanterelles, porcini, and a rare treat for me – the Caesar’s mushroom, not found here in the US. We simplified the recipe even further, replacing the zabaione with a drizzle of truffle oil made with black truffles found outside our door in the Berici Hills.

http://www.italiaoutdoorsfoodandwine.com/index.php/food/trentino/27-food/all-regions/9-mushroomsstrudel filling italiaoutdoors custom bike tours italyStrudel di Finferli con Zabaione al Tartufo

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, or my recipe from here
1 pound mixed fresh wild mushrooms, or a mix of fresh and reconstituted dried
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For zabaione:

2 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
2 tablespoons prosecco
1 tablespoon beef stock

Truffle oil or truffle cream

Remove the frozen pastry from the freezer, and bring to temperature following the manufacturer’s instructions. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Clean the mushroom by brushing and wiping; do not hold under running water. Slice the mushrooms.

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a sauté pan. Add the shallots and saute until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and saute until aromatic, another minute or less. Remove from heat, and season with the parsley, salt and pepper.

Roll the pastry out into a thin sheet. Spread the mushroom mixture over the middle third of the pastry, lengthwise. Cover the mushrooms with the remaining pastry, rolling up, and place on a sheet pan. Brush with the egg whites. Bake in the oven until bubbling inside and golden outside.

For the zabaione:

Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer. Place the egg yolks, prosecco and broth in a stainless steel mixing bowl, place the bowl in the saucepan (creating a bain marie) and whisk the ingredients together over the simmering water until creamy and beginning to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, and truffle oil or cream.

Slice and serve.

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Semifreddo di Pesche ed Amaretti – Peach and Amaretti Semifreddo

semifreddo di pesche luxury ski holidaysI’ve enjoyed some wonderful semifreddo desserts in Italy, and when I make them at home, they are always a hit, and surprisingly simple. I am traveling back to Italy shortly for a few private tours, as well as our Bike the Amarone Wine Roads tour, and we will be spending a few days near Verona. Besides producing wonderful wines, Verona is also home to the “Pesca di Verona IGP”, some of the best peaches in Italy. So looking forward to my visit, and finding wonderful local peaches here at home, I was inspired to create this recipe.

verona region cycling tours europeThe trademark “Pesca di Verona IGP” applies to peaches and nectarines which are certified as to the varietal, sugar content, taste balance, color and size. The IGP regulations guarantee the locale of production, restricting it to 18 communes in the province of Verona. There are a total of 22 varieties, with early, mid and late season availability. They are easily identified by their special packaging. These peaches and nectarines are a big business in this area, involving thousands of farms, over 100,00 tons of product for in excesss of 60 million euro annually. Peach desserts are a specialty of Verona, and often include almonds and amaretti, an almond flavored cookie.

peaches verona bike tours europeSemifreddo translates to ‘half cold’, and refers to an entire class of semi-frozen desserts, with flavors ranging from chocolate to coffee to hazelnut to an endless array of fruit based versions. Today, the majority of recipes I see for semifreddo are made by combining equal parts ice cream (or gelato, if they are Italian) with whipped cream. However, a traditionalist would cringe at these modern versions.

amaretti bike tours italyA good semifreddo has a very specific texture, a perfect balance between hard and creamy, lighter and softer than ice cream. Traditional recipes use one part whipped cream combined with one part custard, combined with the flavor component. For semifreddo all’italiana, this custard is an Italian meringue, egg whites whipped with a warm sugar syrup, producing a smooth and shiny meringue.

peaches peeled luxury ski holidaysMy cooking is all about maximizing the flavors with a minimum of fuss. I don’t end up with the perfect semifreddo, but I do end up with a delicious dessert without spending all day in the kitchen. Here, I use the classic ingredients – whipped cream, meringue, and a flavor component, pureed peaches with almonds and amaretti. But I just used a basic, simple meringue – no simple syrup, thermometer and determining ‘soft ball stage’, just egg whites mixed with granulated sugar. In the recipe below, I also simply mixed the three main ingredients together – the meringue, the whipped cream, and the peach puree.

Semifreddo di Pesche ed Amaretti

2 lbs. ripe yellow peaches
12 – 14 amaretti
1/2 cup toasted blanched almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.

Peel and pit the peaches, quarter them, and put them in a food processor with the amaretti and toasted almonds. Puree until smooth, about 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, whip cream to medium peaks, set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the egg whites, sugar and sea salt to stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into the whipped cream.

Pour the peach mixture into a bowl and fold in the whipped cream and the egg whites. Pour into the loaf pan and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Turn out onto a serving plate, remove the plastic wrap. Cut into inch wide slices and serve immediately, garnished with toasted almonds, peach slices and whipped cream.

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