Exploring Merano – The “City of Flowers” Tucked Away in the Mountains

merano-mountain-view-private-hiking-tours-italyA favorite destination on our Bike the Wine Roads of Trentino-Alto Adige tour is the town of Merano, or Meran in German. It’s stunning location within a basin at the entrance of the Passeier Valley and the Val Venosta, surrounded by mountains topping out at over 3000 meters, offers a plethora of outdoor activities to keep us busy – cycling along the Val Venosta bike path, hiking along the Merano High Mountain Trail in the Texel Mountain group, climbing, and in the winter five different ski areas to explore. Afternoons bring us ample opportunity to explore the culture, history and cuisine of this vibrant town.

merano-cycling-tour-5The enviable climate of Merano (over 300 days of sunshine a year) and its thermal springs have made it a prime vacation destination for many years, attracting luminaries such as Franz Kafka and Ezra Pound. Settled initially as a road station for the Romans in 15 BC, Merano was elevated to the status of a city during the 13th century and made the capital of Tyrol. In 1420, the Duke of Austria, Frederick moved the Tyrolean court to Innsbruck. Though Meran remained the official capital until 1848, it lost its predominant economic position, but its popularity as tourist destination especially for Germans and Italians, remains strong.

merano-gardens-view-private-hiking-tours-italyThanks to its’ unique topology, Merano boasts the mildest winters in the entire central European area. The mild climate allows plants from Mediterranean areas to flourish alongside those from Alpine areas. This amazing diversity of flora can be admired in Merano’s beautiful gardens, including the botanical garden of Trauttmansdorff Castle, as well as the Kranzel Labrinth Gardens, ranking among some of loveliest gardens in the world, and giving Merano its monikeru of the “City of Flowers.”

val-venosta-path-15-castelbelloSudtirol is also the European region with the highest number of castles, with over 800 castles, manor houses, and ruins. The oldest manors date to the early Middle Ages while the most recent date from the late Baroque period. One of the most important is Tyrol Castle, dating from the eleventh century, which now is home to the South Tyrol Museum of History and Culture. The densest concentration of castles and palaces in area can be found in two villages just south Merano, Tisens and Prissian, often referred to as ‘castle villages’, where many aristocratic families constructed summer homes here. There are seven castles here, making it a lovely spot for a walking tour or well worth a short detour from the bike path traveling from Merano to Bolzano.

Merano is also known as the “beautiful fruit garden of the Alps”, where you can find apples, pears, apricots and many types of berries cultivated nearby. Honey, herbs, breads based on rye and other whole grains, Sudtirol speck and mountain cheese, spirits and brandies, beer. Here is where the Central European culinary tradition and alpine flavors meet the cuisine of the Mediterranean. Dine on traditional rich Tyrolean dishes, or enjoy more sophisticated versions reflecting inspiration from the south.

merano-market-private-hiking-tours-italyIn this area of Italy, there are no over-sized shopping malls: local producers offer their wares and fresh seasonal products at markets year round. In Merano there is a large traditional Friday market, as well as several smaller farmers’ markets throughout the week. My favorite to visit before we start a tour is the market held Saturday mornings from 9.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m on the upper Corso Liberta. Another great place to buy local products from speck to chestnut pasta and apples, a wide selection of local cheese and wines and freshly baked bread is Pur, at Corso della Liberta, 35. Enjoy a freshly made panini on their outdoor patio.

forst-brewery-private-hiking-tours-italyTerraced vineyards surround Merano, where a nice variety of both local and international varietals are cultivated, thanks again to the region’s mild Alpine-Mediterranean climate. The best way to discover this region is to taste a glass of one of the original indigenous varietals: try the traditional Vernatsch (Schiava in Italian), the intense Lagrein, or a St. Magdalena, a blend of both. White varietals that originally hail from this region are Gewurztraminer and Moscato Rosa. International varietals that flourish here include Pinot Nero/Noir, Sylvaner, Sauvignon, and Riesling, just to name a few. Northern climates in Italy also provide the barley and fresh mountain water perfect for brewing beer, so one last stop at Forst brewery for a crisp cold beer is a great way to end our ride.

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Buckwheat canederli at Restaurant Sigmund

There are also plenty of wonderful restaurants where we can experience these great products and unique blend of cuisines found in this region. We often celebrate our first night on tour at Restaurant Sigmund on Corso Liberta, which offers typical Tyrolean cuisine with more modern, Mediterranean touch. A lovely spot to dine outdoors in the heart of Merano. A bit outside the town center is Restaurant Roberts Stube, a Slow Food restaurant of only a few tables tucked in an ancient cave. Their menu changes with the season, incorporating local products from white asparagus in the spring to chestnuts in the fall. Laubenkeller is an old school traditional restaurant with good solid food. Kallmunz offers more modern style cuisine, in an elegant room in an old castle on Piazza Duomo. For something sweet, Gelaterie Sabine has been making artisanal gelato in Merano for 40 years.

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Restaurant Robert’s Stube

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Avignonesi – Exploring the Wines of Montepulciano

view-avignonesi-walking-tours-tuscanyOur cycling excursions and walking tours through Tuscany visit many of this lovely regions more prestigious wine zones. One of our favorite destinations – both for its stunning hilltop location, and the picturesque vineyards that surround it, is Montepulciano. The wine produced in these vineyards, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, or “the noble wine from Montepulciano”, obtained Italy’s highest quality designation, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita; Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status in 1980.

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First cyclist arrives

Like many Tuscan wines, Vine Nobile is made primarily from Sangiovese. Sangiovese is Italy’s most widely planted grape varietal, and it is far and away the dominant varietal in central Italy. But Sangiovese varies from area to area – in actuality, there are a myriad of clones of the Sangiovese varietal which possess different characteristics and flourish in different climates. The wines of Montepulciano showcase the local clone of Sangiovese, Prugnolo gentile. This Prugnolo Sangiovese can be the only varietal used, or it can be blended with Canaiolo Nero and small amounts of other local varieties such as Mammolo. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 2 years; it earns riserva designation if it is aged for three years.

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Vernon orients us to our location

One of our favorite stops to learn more about Vino Nobile (and taste, of course) is the winery of Avignonesi. The winery, first established in 1974, is named after the Avignonesi family, the founders of the original estate. In 2009, Avignonesi was acquired by Virginie Saverys who has since introduced organic and biodynamic farming methods to produced distinctive wines that reflect the true character of the local grapes, and the region’s terroir. She has also acquired additional vineyards and invested in a state-of-the-art winemaking facility in Montepulciano.

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Montepulciano

“We believe that the life force of the earth and the uniqueness of our terroir are at the heart of our brand. Avignonesi is reborn from the soil of our vineyards with each vintage in wines that mirror the subtle flavors of the site and the special traits of each year. Our wines express the richness and beauty of the Montepulciano territory. We respect the heritage of Montepulciano, where Sangiovese wines have been produced for centuries, and we wish to contribute to its future by being the finest representative of its heritage that we can be.”

cantina-avignonesi-walking-tours-tuscanyAvignonesi is currently using sustainable farming methods in all 200 hectares of vineyards., and is on track to be granted full organic certification in 2106. But their dedication to natural cultivation does not stop there, they now employ biodynamic farming that integrates local flora and fauna and biodiversity to protect the vine through strengthening its natural defense system and making its growing habitat as healthy and nourishing as possible. “Green” manure is grown in the rows between the vines, including plants like mustard, vetch, rocket, field beans, and grasses, which are eventually mulched into the soil. While growing, the network of roots loosens the soil, aerating it, making it looser and protecting it against erosion. This biodiversity of flora encourages the proliferation of insects and microorganisms that help the vines to thrive.
In addition, Avignonesi employs two biodynamic preparations that they produce to nourish their vines, one cow manure based, the other ground quartz, both of which are matured for several months in cow horns buried underground. No shortcuts taken here!

We enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate the fruits of their careful labor on a recent cycling tour. Our tasting include four of their most impressive wines, all of which are hard to come by in the US.

grandi-annati-cycling-tours-tuscanyGrandi Annati Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vino Nobile Grandi Annate is the finest expression of Sangiovese from Avignonesi’s Montepulciano vineyards. This wine is produced only in the very best years, when the climate and growing conditions are optimum, and the grapes can express all the complexity of the terroir. This is a wine that is rich in character with the stamina to age for many years.

Grandi Annati is 100% Sangiovese, aged for 18 months in French barriques and tonneaux, 20% of this time in new new oak, 80% older oak.

“Medium ruby red color. The elegant bouquet opens with notes of wild roses, plums, and a variety of red fruits, underlined by intriguing scents of sandalwood, myrrh and delicate hints of cloves. The Grandi Annate 2012 is full-bodied yet delicate and round with a fresh acidity and a savory finish that lingers on the palate.”

50&50-cycling-tours-tuscany50&50

A few years ago the winemakers at Avignonesi enjoyed a high-spirited evening with the winemakers from Capannelle, a Chianti producer. No doubt a fair amount of wine was consumed, with much friendly competitive banter, the outcome being an agreement to collaborate. The result is 50&50, a blend of 50% Sangiovese from Capanelle with 50% Merlot from Avignonesi holding in the nearby Cortona zone.

“The 50&50 2011 has a deep, ruby, red color. Aromas of blackcurrant and black cherry are complemented by notes of sandalwood, sweet spices, and menthol. The rich and velvety palate has a fruit-flavored core with subtle complexities from the long aging in oak. Long-lingering  and elegant, this is a wine suitable for long aging in the bottle.”

vin-santo-cycling-tours-tuscanyVin Santo di Montepulciano 2000 and Occhio di Pernice 2000

Vin Santo is a sweet wine with a long history of production in Tuscany.  Once called the “wine of hospitality”, it was used to warm up a passing stranger on his way down from the hills, celebrate some happy event, or make a toast on a Sunday after a special meal.

There are three distinct designations for Vin Santo in this region: Vin Santo di Montepulciano, Vin Santo di Montepulciano – Riserva, Vin Santo di Montepulciano – Occhio di Pernice. The Avignonesi Vin Santo is a blend of Malvasia Bianca and Trebbiano toscano grapes. The “Occhio di Pernice” is a sweet wine made in the Vin Santo style, using instead red grapes, in this case 100% Sangiovese

The traditional fermentation method employed for Vin Santo wines is very typical: the harvested grapes are sorted and hung to dry in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms. Drying concentrates the sugars, obtaining the hogh sugar levels necessary to make this sweet dessert wine. According to the specifications, the grapes must be pressed from December 1 for Vin Santo di Montepulciano and January 1 for the other two, then they are aged in small 25-liter oaks barrels (caratelli) for 10 years, with an additional 1 year minimum in the bottle. In the case of the Occhio di Pernice, the barrel aging includes contact with a “madre”, or mother, similar to that used in the production of vinegar or sourdough, which is the property of Avignonesi.

The Avignonesi Vin Santo is “Intense and full-bodied with a rich texture and an intriguingly sweet and spicy bouquet of candied citrus fruits, figs, honey and aromatic herbs.” The Occhio di Pernice “Rich and concentrated with enveloping aromas of Mediterranean herbs, citron, plums, fruit cake, star anise and a long-lingering, nutty finish. “ Both were a real treat to end the tasting, with the Occhio di Pernice a unique wine to experience, very rare to come across outside of this corner of Tuscany.

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Risotto con Funghi Freschi – Risotto with Fresh Mushrooms

italiaoutdoors-risotto-dolomites-cycling-tourOn our late summer and fall tours, whether we are hiking in the Dolomites or cycling through Tuscany, a wide array of lovely mushrooms appears on our dinner menus or impresses us as we visit an outdoor market. The varieties differ from region to region and month to month, but are becoming increasingly available year round with cultivation. But in Italy, where foraging is still practiced by many, wild mushrooms are front and center in the autumn markets.

mushroom-variety-italy-custom-ski-toursMushrooms, found wild in the forests, are used in the cuisines throughout Italy, from Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto to Tuscany and Umbria. Wild mushrooms have been prized since ancient times; the Pharaohs of Egypt controlled their distribution, and they were referred to as “food of the gods” in ancient Rome.

Caves are used for cultivation in Trentino-Alto Adige, but the many woodlands are also a source of a huge variety of wild mushrooms. These include well-known wild varieties like chanterelles, honey mushrooms, morels, yellow trumpets, 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.

italiaoutdoors-mushrooms-box-private-hiking-tourDue to the limited growing season of the wild varieties, their availability was limited 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 the Veneto and began their own mushroom farms. These first farms were located in the caves around Costozza, as these possessed the optimum humidity and temperature for mushroom growth.

Production in caves results in fewer mushrooms per foot than indoor cultivation of these mushrooms, but the cave environment yields a superior quality. The micro climate of the cave enables the production of a much more ‘natural’ mushroom, with a taste and smell more similar to it wild counterparts. Many grottos used for mushroom cultivation are located in the Berici Hills near Costozza, but also are found in the area of Cismon del Grappa and Sovizzo.

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Proud of his foraged mushrooms!

During autumn time in Tuscany and Umbria, we spot locals emerging from fields and forests, holding onto a wicker basket loaded with lovely wild mushrooms. These regions are home to a large variety of edible (and inedible) mushrooms, including the well-known porcini. Here, we find mushrooms in all sorts of dishes, from our antipasti to tagliatelle pasta and risotto primi to main courses. As well as the porcini variety of mushroom, which can be found in areas such as Maremma and Mugello, look for the rarer prugnolo variety,

Here is a lovely risotto recipe from Sudtirol/Alto Adige that I’ve translated and adapted. It calls for fresh chanterelles, but a nice mix of fresh mushrooms, or even some reconstituted dried mushrooms would work well – rinse the dried mushrooms, then soak for about 30 minutes in hot water to cover. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and add the mushrooms to any fresh ones you may use. Add the soaking liquid to your broth in the recipe below.

italiaoutdoors-mushrooms-private-hiking-tourRisotto con Gallinaci Freschi

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, cut into 1/4” dice
6 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms; or fresh mixed mushrooms
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice
4 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup white wine
2 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup grated grana cheese
parsley

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan.  Add the onions and mushrooms and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan, heat the stock, keeping it just below a simmer.

Add the rice to the sauté pan with the mushrooms. Stir for about 1 minute, until the grains are coated with the fat and liquid in the pan. Add the wine, and simmer slowly, stirring frequently, until it has evaporated.

Add a ladleful of the hot stock and again simmer, stirring gently, until the stock is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring and waiting until the stock is absorbed before the next addition of stock. Continue until the rice is al dente. The stock may not all be used.

When the risotto is done, stir in the cheeses and season with salt to taste. Pour into a soup tureen and serve, garnish with the fresh parsley.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Mushrooms, Risotto, Travel, Trentino Food, Tuscany, Umbria, Uncategorized, Veneto, Veneto Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Bassano del Grappa – From Grappa and White Asparagus to Hemingway and Palladio

bassano-view-north-hiking-tours-italyBassano del Grappa is a beautiful town we visit often on our cycling adventures and hiking tours. Bassano has played a critical role in the history of the region, inspired artists from Palladio to Hemingway, and its singular terrain produces some remarkable foods and wines. Located in the province of Vicenza in the Veneto region, the city lies at the foothills of the Prealps, where Brenta river emerges from the southern end of the Brenta valley (Canale di Brenta) and begins its traverse of the lowlands past Vicenza and Padua on its journey to the Adriatic.

bassano-ponte-alpini-view-hiking-tours-italyFirst colonized by the Romans around the 2nd century, the name Bassano comes from the Roman family Bassianus who began an agricultural estate here. Throughout history, the town survived rulers from all sides – first Vicenza, then a period as a free commune under the Ezzelino family, renowned for their cruelty, followed by Milan, Venice, and eventually becoming part of the newly unified Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

poli-tasting-hiking-tours-italyOriginally the town was known as Bassano Veneto. The artist Jacopo Bassano lived most of his life in this town, and took it as his last name. The town is also famous for the renowned Italian digestif, grappa, made from distilling the remains from the winemaking process after pressing: grape skins, seeds and stems, called pomace. It is commonly believed that the spirit was named after the town, but the town itself was not called Bassano del Grappa until 1928, long after the spirit was invented.

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Walking tour at summit of Monte Grappa

Bassano was located right on the front line in both World Wars. During the first World War, terrible battles ensued on neighboring Monte Grappa, where the Italian army regrouped after their devastating loss at Caporetto and made a heroic last stand against the Austrians. At the top of the mountain lie the remains of over 12,000 Italian troops and over 10,000 Austrian and Hungarian troops who lost their lives during this battle. In 1928, the name was changed to Bassano del Grappa, in memory of the soldiers killed. Ernest Hemingway resided in Bassano during his days as an ambulance driver during WWI. His experience here provided inspiration for his novel “A Farewell to Arms. ”

bassano-war-memorial-hiking-tours-italyIn World War II, after the Armistice, the city was invaded by German troops, who killed or deported numerous inhabitants. Memorials to these fallen heroes line a row of trees just outside the old town center. The most famous symbol of the town is the beautiful covered pontoon bridge, designed by famed architect Andrea Palladio in 1569. This bridge has been destroyed many times, most recently during World War II. The Alpine soldiers raised money and paid for the rebuilding of the bridge, known as the Ponte degli Alpini. Other sights to see include the Cathedral, the Palazzo Michieli-Bonato and Palazzo del Municipio, both with frescos by Jacopo Bassano, and the Town Museum with ancient archaeological remains, and works by Canova, Durer, Spagnoletto and Rembrandt.

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Enjoying Nardini spritz on Ponte degli Alpini

Bassano is also renowned for one of the rarest delicacies in Italy, its white asparagus that appears between mid-March and mid-June. The oldest legend attributes its introduction to the area by Saint Anthony of Padua, who was very fond of the vegetable and spread knowledge of it to Bassano. Here, it found its ideal environment in the sandy, soft, well-drained and calcareous soil along the Brenta River. In the 1500 and 1600s, the white asparagus of Bassano was prized, and reserved for the banquet of the Venetian nobility.

white-asparagus-hiking-tours-italyOn a recent private bike trip, we were able to enjoy the real thing throughout the week, and made a wonderful, simple roasted white asparagus in one of our cooking classes. But I also found a way to take a little taste of this delicacy home with me; a family producer in Bassano that makes their own canned sauces and pestos called “Specialita in Gamba, Produzione propria e spaccio di conserve aglio e peperoncino”, Production and sale of canned garlic and chili.

AOP-market-hiking-tours-italyThis beautiful shop is right in the center of Bassano, with Mom and Dad preparing the sauces, and the son greeting me and offering me many tastes of their wonderful products. I returned later with our trip guests, and more sampling. They had many tasty sauces; there most popular being AOP (Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino – garlic, oil, and hot peppers), but also a radicchio, a garlic pesto, a horseradish sauce (cren), a sauce for bigoli which I can’t now recall exactly what it contained, and a white asparagus ‘pesto’ which made its way back to the US in my suitcase. They also pickle and preserve whole garlic, shallots, and mixed vegetables. Their products are very attractively displayed on wooden shelves, with strings of dried peppers hanging along the ceiling, and large baskets of garlic and shallots around the store. A leg of prosciutto is on a carving rack, its only purpose to accompany their sauces during tastings. Well worth a stop, and I will be experimenting with my own version of AOP when I return home.
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For dinner, there are many choices to be had here. For those looking for a nice, simple dinner I recommend Osteria La Caneva, right around the corner from Piazza Liberta. A very local establishment, with only about 6-7 tables, with a few more on the street outside, and the menu written on a chalk board.  Try the pasta fagoli, much better than many versions I’ve had at much more upscale locales;  or the fettucini with funghi and morlacco, a soft cheese produced on the Morlacco plain of Monte Grappa.

ettucine-morlacco-hiking-tours-italyAnother restaurant that serves traditional local foods is Antico Ristorante Cardellino on Via Bellavitis. Featuring “La Cucina della Memoria” – cuisine from times past – they use local ingredients including radicchio, white asparagus, asiago cheese and mushrooms in their classic regional dishes. Enjoy the house specialty, baccala vicentina, or bigoli con anatra or risotto con radicchio.

garganega-wine-hiking-tours-italyWhat wines should you try on a visit to Bassano del Grappa? The Montello e Colli Asolani DOC, the Vicenza DOC and the Breganze DOC are all right nearby, each with some wonderful wines to sample. A perfect aperitif to have with your antipasti would be a Colli Asolani Prosecco from Bele Casel or Villa di Maser.  A white wine to try would based on the local Garganega grape, a nice one is made by Contra Soarda, their Il Pendio which is a blend of Garganega and Vespaiolo. For red wine fans, the Il Saggio from Contra Soarda is a very intense, medium bodied wine, a blend of Carmenere, Grupello and Marzemino. Bordeaux blends from the Venegazzu vineyards of Montello, such as those made by Gasparini, are also worth a try. Finally, the well-known Breganze  winery Maculan has its Brentino, another Bordeaux style blend, as well as some tasty sweet dessert wines such as the Dindarello and Torcolato.

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Grappa at Poli

And, of course, no visit to Bassano is complete without a tasting of the local digestif, grappa. The only distilled spirit produced from the grape pomace, there are two famous producers located in Bassano, right on or near the Ponte degli Alpini. Nardini is on the bridge itself, and you will often see the locals gathered inside and spilling out onto the bridge enjoying a drink. Across the street is the producer Poli, where you can taste a few varieties of grappa after you visit their grappa museum to learn how the spirit is made. You can also ‘smell’ many of their varieties – they have about two dozen or so stations that deliver a whiff of various flavors at the push of a button. A good way to experience the flavors without the alcohol!

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Insalata di Barbabietola con Mele e Formaggio di Capra – Beet, Apple and Goat Cheese Salad

beet-salad-cheese-private-hiking-tours-italyOne of my Christmas gifts this year was Lidia Bastianich’s new cookbook, “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine”.  This is a great addition to my library of Italian cookbooks, with a comprehensive overview of ingredients and techniques. Of course, I couldn’t wait to try it out, and post-holiday I gravitate to lighter fare. The first recipe I tried is Insalata di Barbabietola con Mele e Formaggio di Capra, a beet salad, using both the beet root as well as beet green, apple and goat cheese. The one area I find this cookbook lacking, however, is sharing the diverse nature of Italian cuisine. Italian cuisine is presented as a unified entity rather than an intriguing collection of regional cuisines, each expressing the unique history and culture of a region. On more than one occasion I have overheard a restaurant owner in Italy inform a diner that their request for pesto or grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese cannot be accommodated – “we don’t serve that here”. All passionate Italian chefs believe their home region’s cuisine is, of course, the best!

bassano-private-bike-tours-italyThis recipe, if I had to attribute it to an area in Italy, combines products native to the Northern regions. The picturesque town of Bassano del Grappa is a frequent stop on our Bike the Wine Roads tours in Italy. Close to the Prosecco hills, Breganze wine zone, as well as the lovely Valsugana bike path and the challenging Monte Grappa, Bassano offers some amazing culinary specialties as well. It is best known for its prized white asparagus, but Bassano has also given us beets. Here in the US, we find a variety of beet called the Chioggia beet, with its distinctive white and rose rings. Supposedly this varietal arrived in the US from Italy in the mid-1800s, and were originally called Barbabietola di Bassano (beets of Bassano).

beets-private-hiking-tours-italyNortheast Italy produces a wide array of apples, from Val Venosta in Alto Adige, Val di Non in Trentino, and also the Veneto and Friuli. But these regions don’t produce much goat cheese – there are many wonderful cheeses here, but made from the milk of cows that flourish in the alpine pastures of these regions. Moving east into Lombardy and then Piedmont, you will find more sheep and goats than cows, especially at lower elevations, and this is reflected in the cheeses – here you will find goat cheese, ewe cheese, and cheeses that combine the milk of two or more. Piedmont is one of the premiere cheese producing regions in Italy, with goat milk cheeses such as Robiola, Caprino di Rimella, and Caprino Ossolano. So a salad such as this would likely have a cow milk cheese in Trentino or the Veneto, and a goat cheese when served in Piedmont.

beet-salad-top-private-cycling-tours-italyInsalata di Barbabietola con Mele e Formaggio di Capra

(Adapted from Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine, by Lidia Bastianich)

10 or 12 small yellow and red beets with greens attached (about 3 pounds total)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium tart crisp apple
4 ounces or so slightly aged goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the beet greens, leaving about an inch of stem on the beets. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil, drizzling with a bit of olive oil before sealing them up in the foil. Roast until tender when poked with a knife, about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven and let cool.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse the greens and trim off any very tough parts of the stems or blemishes on the leaves. Trim the softer stems, and keep separate from the leaves. Cut the stems into 1 inch pieces. Roughly chop the leaves. Add the stems to the boiling water and cook 5 minutes. Add the leaves and cook until tender, about 5 more minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water to halt the cooking. Squeeze to remove excess water, place into a large bowl.

Peel the beets and cut into wedges. Add to the greens in the bowl. Cut the apple into matchstick size pieces, leaving the peel on. Add to the beets and greens.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Toss the dressing with the beets, apples and greens. Spread on a serving platter and top with the goat cheese.

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