Semifreddo di Nocciole con Salsa di Pesche

semifreddo-above-private-walking-tours-italyOne of the many benefits of an active holiday, like our Italy cycling tours or walking adventures, is the ability to indulge guilt-free in dessert at the end of our meal. Often we cannot decide which wonderful treat to order, so we order one of each and pass around the table.

semifreddo-close-private-walking-tours-italyThis week I am featuring a couple of local products from Northern Italy in an easy summer dessert, Semifreddo di Nocciole, a Hazelnut Semifreddo. Semifreddo, “part frozen” is a frozen dessert found in restaurants across Italy. As it contains more sugar and air than ice cream, it doesn’t freeze as hard, and can be cut into slices straight out of the freezer. And you don’t need an ice cream maker or any other special equipment to make it – you just mix the ingredients, place into a loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for a few hours.

nocciole-piedmont-cycling-toursThe center of hazelnut production in Italy is the region of Piedmonte. In the Langhe area, home to the amazing Nebbiolo wines (Barolo, Barbaresco) grows the IGP Tonda Gentile del Piemonte (“round noble of Piedmont”), also known as “Nocciola Piemonte”.

In 1946, Pietro Ferrero, who owned a bakery in Alba, Piedmont, made a sweet from ground hazelnuts and a bit of chocolate, as cocoa was in limited supply due to WWII rationing. This “Pasta Gianduja” was originally sold as solid bar, but Ferrero later produced a creamy version, called ”Supercrema”. In 1963, Ferrero’s son Michele Ferrero revamped Supercrema with the intention of marketing it throughout Europe, renamed “Nutella”. Today Nutella consumes close to 30% of the world’s hazelnuts.

Today in the Langhe area visitors can spot the hazelnuts orchards among the vineyards – the trees are neatly spaced 5 meters apart to allow for a self-propelled picking machine. Harvest is in August and September, when the nuts are completely ripe and fall from the trees. After harvest, the product is dried, either in the sun or by air dryers, and then stored in thin layers. Cortemilia, a small town in the province of Cuneo, celebrates the Sagra della Nocciola IGP Piemonte – the Festival of the Piemonte Hazelnuts – every August for over 60 years now.

peaches-verona-bike-tours-europeI accompanied my version of this dessert with a peach sauce. During the summer months on our tours through the Amarone wine area outside of Verona, we see orchards of the “Pesca di Verona IGP” peaches and nectarines. These are certified as to the varietal, sugar content, taste balance, color and size. There are a total of 22 varieties, with early, mid and late season availability. Peach desserts are a specialty of this region during this season.

moscato-piedmont-cycling-toursServe with a dessert wine from Piedmonte, like the regional frizzante white wine of Moscato d’Asti

Semifreddo di Nocciole – Hazelnut Semifreddo

3 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rum
2 ounces hazelnuts, finely chopped in a blender
1 cup heay cream

Combine egg yolks, egg, and sugar in a metal bowl or top of a double boiler. Place in a saucepan of just simmering water, and beat while heating up to 180°F.

Remove from the heat, add the rum, and continue to beat. Allow the mixture to cool.

In a cold bowl, beat the heavy cream until stiif peaks forrm. Fold into the cooled egg mixture. Fold in the finely chopped hazelnuts.

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Pour the semifreddo into the pan, distribute it uniformly, cover it with more plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for at least 3 hours. Cut into slices and serve with the peach sauce.

Salsa di Pesche – Peach Sauce

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 ripe peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, each cut into 8 wedges
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring often, until sugar begins to dissolve. Add peaches and vanilla. Sauté until peaches are tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in rum. Return skillet to heat and cook until sauce thickens, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Serve with hazelnut semifreddo.

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Cotechino in Umido con Fagioli di Posina – Cotechino Sausage with Beans

cotechino-fagioli-close-private-hiking-tours-italyExploring the local cuisine of the regions we visit on our walking tours and cycling tours in Italy is an important part of creating an authentic Italy experience. No tourist menus, no spaghetti and meat balls. Italians pride themselves on their food knowledge, and part of this is knowing where the best food comes from – what towns produce the best white asparagus, makes the best salumi, or tastiest cheese.

asiago-private-hiking-tours-italyItalian law, as well as EU law, supports this identification of food products (and wines) with a place of origin. This is something we don’t have in the US, and in fact ignore as we label cheese as “Asiago” – which is a location in Italy, a lovely mountain plateau in northern Veneto region, and only cheese made there can legally use the name. A great place to explore on foot, enjoying the amazing view of the Veneto plains as we follow the “Giro di Malghe”, a walk through the small farms that produce the authentic Asiago cheese.

View of Veneto region from Asiago plateau

These guidelines are the DOP certification system. DOP is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta  “Protected Designation of Origin”. This certification ensures that products are locally grown and packaged. Some food products have earned this certification, others not quite yet, but this association between product quality and source of origin is a point of pride for every chef we work with in Italy – from restaurant chefs to home cooks. This focus on the very best ingredients is how Italian cooks can create such amazing dishes from a few simple items.

This recipe is a wonderful example. I found it in a recipe book put out by the Veneto tourism board, and the entire book is devoted to the local beans from Posina. The ingredient list illustrates this wonderfully – it doesn’t just identify the ingredients, but specifies the origin of many; red onions from Bassano, olive oil from Colli Berici. The following description from the tourism board gives you an idea of the attention Italians pay to their food:

fagioli-private-hiking-tours-italyThe valley of Astico lies in the heart of the Vicenza province, sheltered by the mountains that separate it from Trentino. In this environment, renowned for its mineral water, grow the beans of Posina, Arsiero and Laghi. Two varieties, Scalda and Fasòla, are cultivated both in the valley and on the slopes. Between the World Wars, Posina beans were sold throughout the country, but today only small amounts are produced. These beans require fresh, well-drained soil, with little clay so that they don’t become tough. The Scalda variety is particularly sweet and highly nutritious, with a pleasant, floury texture and a thin pod that withstands heat and keeps it from coming apart in soups. The Fasòla can grow to up to four meters in height and has a vinous scarlet-colored seed with black speckling that is double in size. It has a denser consistency, is best served raw and has a flavor vaguely reminiscent of the chestnut. Both varieties are perfect for a classic dish of this region, a bean soup called Pasta Fagioli.

cotechino-private-hiking-tours-italyThe cotechino featured in the recipe has local ties too – a large salumi found in the northern regions of Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, and the Veneto, and is typically featured in the classic dish Bollito Misto. The name originated from the presence of pork skin (cotica) in varying proportions in the salumi. At one time it was as high as 50%, but today cotechino contains no more than 30%. It is derived from pork parts around the neck and head of the animal, adding a substantial place at the base of the head. It is seasoned with salt, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon. My local butcher described to me how to cook it, submerged in simmering water for a minimum of 2 1/2 hours – not a minute less!

At home, I would substitute a local sausage for the cotechino, and dried borlotti beans for the Fagioli di Posina.

cotechino-fagioli-private-hiking-tours-italyI always pair my dishes with a wine from the same locale – for this dish I recommend a wine from the Colli Berici wine zone in the Veneto, Piovene Porte Godi’s Polveriera, a Bordeaux blend made with estate grown grapes.

Cotechino in Umido con Fagioli di Posina

For 4 persons

1 cotechino
1 pound Posina beans
1 red onion from Bassano
1 carrot
1 stalk of Rubbio celery
4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil from Colli Berici
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices of pancetta

Poke the cotechino with a toothpick several times. Place the cotechino in a large pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, in another pot place the beans in plenty of salted water. Add the bay leaves and cook in simmering water until tender. Drain and set aside.

Finely chop the onion, carrots and celery and then saute them in a saucepan with the oil. Combine the vegetables (in Italy this is called a soffrito) with the beans and the tomatoes, then cook for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the slices of pancetta on a sheet pan and broil until crispy.

Pour the beans into a large oven proof frying pan. Cut the cotechino into 1/2 inch slices and add to the pan. Place in a 250°F for 20 minutes. Serve, topped with a crisp pancetta slice.

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Capesante alla Piastra – Broiled Scallops in the Shell

capesante-piastre-private-walking-tours-italyOn our private walking tours in Italy, we often begin our week in the Serenissima, the city of Venice. My colleague Vernon covers the unique and fascinating history of the world’s longest lived republic, which existed for a millennium between the 8th century and the 18th century. I cover the food scene, which in Venice centers around the Rialto market.

ialto-fish-market-venice-private-walking-tours-italyThe Rialto was settled by the ninth century, a small area known as the Rivoaltus, or “high bank”, around a river that eventually became known as the Grand Canal. The Rialto became an important district in 1097, when the market moved there, and in the following century a boat bridge was set up across the Grand Canal providing access to it. This was eventually replaced by the Rialto Bridge.

rialto-bridge-venice-private-walking-tours-italyview-evening-rialto-venice-private-walking-tours-italyThe market expanded into both a retail and as a wholesale market. Today you’ll find shops selling luxury goods, push carts with jewelry, leather goods, tourist knickknacks. Heading away from the bridge are produce stands, butchers, and cheese shops. Further in is the Pescheria (fish market), teeming with the fruits of the Adriatic.

capesante-venice-private-walking-tours-italyScallops are one of my favorite items to buy at the Peschiera here in the Veneto. Here in Italy, you can buy the whole scallop intact in the shell, rather than just the adductor muscle we find in the US. Whole scallops are a great treat, offering two complementary flavors and textures in one shell: the meat, the adductor muscle we call a “scallop”, which is firm and white, and the “coral”, which is soft and often brightly colored reddish-orange. Whole scallops are a snap to prepare, delicious, and visually dramatic served in its shell.

capesante-piastre-above-private-walking-tours-italyIn Venice, whole scallops are served as an antipasti,  or as tasty fish based secondi, or second course. The scallop meat finds its way into primi courses accompanied by gnocchi, or in a risotto. This recipe, a hot antipasti, is typically Venetian but popular along the entire North Adriatic coast.

I enjoyed a nice Gambellara wine with my scallops. This Veneto wine zone produces crisp whites from the Garganega varietal, the same grape used in Soave wines.

Capesante alla Piastra

For 4 people

8 scallops
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 lemon wedges

Remove the scallops from their shells and wash carefully with cold water, removing the brown frill and leaving the white flesh with the red coral attached. Then clean the 4 shells, dry and keep aside.

Preheat the griddle or a non-stick pan and when the surface is very hot, fry the scallops for 4-5 minutes, turning so they do not burn.

In the meantime, arrange 2 shells on each plate. Garnish the plates by adding a bed of tender salad leaves under the shells.

When the scallops are ready, place one on each shell, drizzle with olive oil, add a pinch of salt and one of pepper to taste.

Serve with lemon wedges.

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Abbazia di Novacella – Wines from Our Alto Adige Cycling Tours

abbazia-novacella-arch-hiking-tour-italyOur last stop on our upcoming Hike and Bike tour in Italy is the lovely Sudtirol town of Bressanone. Located just north of town, along the Isarco River, is the Abbazia di Novacella. The Abbazia (Abbey) was founded in 1142 by the Augustinians. In addition to addressing the spiritual and educational needs of the surrounding communities, the Abbazia also supported itself through agricultural endeavors.

Throughout its 850 year history, the Abbazia played a central role in the region. The 15th and early 16th centuries were Novacella’s heyday, revealed in the magnificent altars produced for the collegiate church during this period, as well as the impressive late Gothic hall choir which embellished the church with its characteristic steep, towering roof.

abbazia-novacella-cemetary-hiking-tour-italyLater years saw the Abbey almost destroyed. In World War I Novacella was occupied by soldiers. Apart from the small funeral bell and the fire bell, all other bells were taken away to make weapons and were only replaced in 1922. The Second World War was even more disastrous for the Abbazia. The German Armed Forces used the monastery buildings to store armaments and set up a printing works. As a result, Novacella became the target of an Allied bombing raid on 23rd March 1945 which damaged the northern side of the collegiate church, the sacristy, the tower and the Chapel of Grace. The damage was finally repaired by restoration work in 1982.

Today the Abbey still serves more than 20 parishes where their work involves both pastoral care as well as education. The Neustift school boarding house opened at the beginning of the 1970s to accommodate almost 100 boys. Tourism is also an important activity, and the Abbey offers  guided tours of the monastery complex, and is home to The Novacella Education and Conference Centre.

abbazia-novacella-courtyard-hiking-tour-italyThe monastery still maintains itself economically through the production and sales of agricultural products such as culinary herbs and fruit. But its most renowned product are the Abbazia di Novacella wines. The Abbazia now boasts an international reputation as an award-winning winery. It is home to a small wine making school, and in 2009, Italy’s Gambero Rosso named Celestino Lucin, the abbey’s enologist, Winemaker of the Year.

The Abbazia di Novacella is located in the Alto Adige Valle Isarco DOC. Also known as Sudtirol Eisacktaler, is Italy’s northernmost wine region on the southern side of the Alps. The mineral-rich soils, the elevation (1,970 ft – 2,950 ft) and the cool climate are all factors which produce intense aromas and flavors as well as fruity, mouth-watering acidity found in wines produced from the typical white Valle Isarco valley grape varieties. The most widely-grown whites in the vineyards around Varna just north of Bressanone are Sylvaner, Kerner, Gewürztraminer and Veltliner.

The Abbazia also owns vineyards in the warm central region of Alto Adige which supply the red grapes. They include the full-bodied, savory Lagrein from the Mariaheim vineyard in Bolzano and red wines from the Marklhof estate in the cool rolling hills of Cornaiano to the south of Bolzano where the grapes are harvested, crushed and the wines matured. The wines include Vernatsch, Pinot Nero and the sweet Moscato Rosa.

abbazia-novacella-cellar-bar-hiking-tour-italyVisitors can take a tour of the monastery, try products from the monastery’s own estates in the monastery cellar, including the Novacella wines, brandies, apple juice, elderflower cordial and the Novacella herbal infusions. The Abbazia also offers guided tours of the wine estate followed by a tasting of their wines. Reservations for the latter are required.

A few wines I recommend you check out:

Praepositus Kerner



The Praepositus (translation: warden/provost/prior of an abbey) line represents the very best expression of Abbazia’s vineyards. They are not single-vineyard wines, but selections of the best fruit from the best sites.

The Kerner grape is white grape variety, with a very intense aroma. Originally developed in Germany, It was bred in 1929 by August Herold by crossing the red grape Trollinger, which is known in Italy as Schiava or Vernatsch, with the white grape Riesling. The name Kerner was chosen as a tribute to a poet and physician, Justinus Kerner, who wrote songs and poetry on wine. The wines made from this varietal are wonderfully rich in flavor, with bright floral aromas and a full, fruity palate.

The 2015 Praepositus Kerner was awarded 95 points by Wine Enthusiast, and 92 points by James Suckling. Wine Enthusiast said “You’ll need to swirl the glass a few times to release the enticing scents of yellow stone fruit, Alpine herb and an intriguing smoky note. The savory vibrant palate is more expressive, delivering layers of crunchy green apple, zesty tangerine and juicy yellow peach set against crisp acidity. A flinty mineral note graces the lingering finish, lending even more depth.”





abbazia-gewurztraminer-bike-tours-italyGewurztraminer, or “spicy” Traminer, originated in Sudtirol. Traminer is one of the oldest grapes in the world, and recent studies have demonstrated that it is the ancestor of some of the oldest grape varieties in the world, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Bianco, Grigio and Noir. An intensely aromatic and elegant wine, its pink to reddish grapes are naturally sweet, and produce a white wine that is usually off-dry, with a strong scent of lychee.

A delicate floral aroma with a whiff of tropical fruits. Full-bodied and lush, but dry with a crisp acidity.

Santa Magdalener

abbazia-magdalener-bike-tours-italySanta Magdalener wines are a red wine produced from the native Schiava grapes, also known as Vernatsch. These wines are blends, containing up to 15% of other varieties of grapes, most commonly Lagrein, another native varietal, as well as Pinot Noir. Typically, as with the Abbazia di Novacella offering, these wines include at least 5% Lagrein.

A bright ruby red, with hints of floral and cherry fruit on the nose. It is crisp, lively, and full of cherry flavor, with just a bit of acidity and tannin to balance.


Praepositus Pinot Nero Riserva


One of the Abbazia’s flagship wines, this 100% Blauburgunder (Pinot Nero/Pinot Noir) hails from gravelly marine soils at elevation of 350 meters.  Fermentation takes place in stainless steel for 20 days, followed by malolactic fermentation and maturation over 18 months in French barriques.

A stylish and sophisticated Pinot Noir, rather than full-bodied and muscular. Medium ruby with a fresh, fruity nose, aromatic, supple and luscious with hints of red currants, smooth tannins and a discreet whiff of spicy oak.

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Patate di Cetica su Letto di Asparagi e Fonduta di Pecorino – Potatoes with Asparagus and Pecorino Fondue

potato-top-walking-tours-italyCome fall, we will be leading a private cycling tour in Tuscany, traveling from Arezzo to Montepulciano to Montalcino. My colleague Vernon customizes the routes, so our guests can enjoy those classic Tuscan views on their way to a great winery or our villa hotel. My role is to introduce the local wines, produce and cuisine that make each place we visit unique. Tuscany is known for its meats – the Chianina beef used for Bistecca alla Fiorentina, or the Cinta Senese pigs, but Tuscans have a real passion for vegetables.

tuscany-landscape-walking-tours-italyOne local specialty that most visitors would not notice is the red potato of Cetica. Just north of our start point in Arezzo, this ancient variety of potato has been cultivated here since the beginning of the last century. They grow at 500 meters above sea level or higher, in loose, sandy soil made nutrient-rich with organic material. These potatoes are small and round with light red skin and the flesh is white with reddish tones. They are excellent when used in gnocchi and potato tortelli, all of them Cetican specialties.

From the book Italy and the Potato: A History, 1550-2000, by David Gentilcore (yes, an entire book on the subject), I found the following anecdote about Prince Umberto of Savoy’s introduction to the local specialty during his visit in 1925: “During his visit the prince was served the local “Cetica” potatoes in different ways… When the prince seemed to have had his fill of the “Cetica” potato, a local chirped up and invited him not to stand on ceremony since there was plenty: ‘Sir prince, eat them and don’t be silly, we have enough for the pigs too’. The story is too good to be true, and probably is not, invented by the townspeople to poke fun at their rural neighbors, the Ceticatti.

pecorino-asparagus-walking-tours-italyThe following recipe, from a regional cookbook put out by the Arezzo area tourist board, may have been one of the many served to the Prince that day. It is similar to our Twice-Baked Potatoes, but the addition of an egg and a truffle cream takes it over the top. They can be prepped in advance up until you top it with the egg yolk and beaten whites, perfect to pair with a roast, or a grilled steak.

potato-egg-walking-tours-italyPatate di Cetica su Letto di Asparagi e Fonduta di Pecorino

Serves 4

For the potatoes:

2 medium size Cetica potatoes (I substituted russet)
4 ounces grated Pecorino cheese
1 tablespoon butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs, separated

12 green asparagus spears

For the fonduta:

10 ounces of Pecorino Tartufo – pecorino cheese studded with truffles, cut into small cubes
7 ounces fresh heavy cream
2 ounces butter
1/4 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 355°F. Wash the potatoes, place on a sheet pan and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, clean the asparagus by removing the tough part. Blanch in boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool immediately in cold water.

When the potatoes have cooled slightly, slice lengthwise and scoop out the contents without damaging the skin.

Mash the pulp in a bowl using a fork, add the grated cheese and the butter, season with salt and pepper, stirring until the mixture is smooth, then fill the skins, making a small indentation on the top to hold an egg yolk. Bake for 5 minutes at 400°F.

Gently place one yolk on top of each potato, add salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks with a pinch of salt and use a pastry bag, or a plastic bag with a corner cut off to decorate the top of each potato with the beaten egg whites, covering the yolks. Bake until the whites are golden.

For the fondue, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the cubed Pecorino Tartufo, heavy cream, and wine. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has melted completely. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the asparagus. Arrange the asparagus on four plates, drizzle with the fondue and add a potatoes to each.

Posted in Cheeses, Eggs, Gluten Free, Potatoes, Travel, Tuscany, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment