Kaiserschmarren – Sweet Omelet from Sudtirol

kaiserschmarren-private-hiking-tours-dolomitesLate June and July is the best time to explore the Dolomites. This magnificent mountain area epitomizes the Best of Italy; stunning vistas, fascinating history and blend of cultures, and amazing and unique cuisine. Our Dolomite hiking tours  and cycling adventures allow us a week to immerse ourselves in all of these as we explore the area. Rustic mountain rifugi nestled in these peaks provide ample opportunity to refuel on regional dishes as we travel.

rifugio-s-croce-view-private-hiking-tours-dolomitesOne of my favorite local dishes that reflects the areas Austrian roots is Kaiserschmarren. Kaiserschmarren is a light, eggy caramelized pancake, baked in butter. The pancake is split with two forks into pieces while frying, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served hot with apples or plums or various fruit compotes. It can be enjoyed as a dessert, or it can also be eaten for lunch or an afternoon snack at most mountain rifugi in the Dolomites.

kaiserschmarren-pan-forks-private-hiking-tours-dolomitesThe name Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren takes its name from the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I, who was reportedly very fond this treat, and served with jam was his favorite dessert. Schmarren refers to a scrambled or shredded dish, but is also slang for trifle, mess, or nonsense.

rifugio-s-croce-private-hiking-tours-dolomitesWhile it is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for Kaiser Francis Joseph I, there are several anecdotes around its invention. One involves the Emperor and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria. Obsessed with her figure, the Empress directed the kitchen staff to prepare only light desserts, much to the consternation of her husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what ‘Schmarren’ our chef has cooked up.” It apparently met his approval as he reputedly finished both his and his wife’s serving.

kaiserschmarren-rifugio-private-hiking-tours-dolomitesAnother story is that Francis Joseph and his wife were traveling the Alps and stopped by a farmer’s home for lunch. The farmer was so nervous that he threw all the fanciest ingredients he had into a pan to make a delicious pancake; worse yet, due to his nervousness and shaky hands he scrambled the pancake. Hoping to cover up the mess he then covered it with plum jam. Luckily, the kaiser thought it was scrumptious.

One last tale is that the Empress was a poor cook and couldn’t flip a pancake efficiently. She decided to play to her strengths and shred the pancakes altogether and would serve them up to the Kaiser on a regular basis. Even as an experienced cook, flipping the pancake is always tricky, so I like that the final product allows for error here!

kaiserschmarren-pan-private-hiking-tours-dolomitesKaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. Typically the egg whites are separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added. You can simplfy and just combined all the ingredients without separating the eggs, but the results will not be as fluffy. In the more traditional recipes only raisins are added, but now you can find versions that add nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or pieces of apple.

Kaiserschmarren – Sweet Crumbled Omelet

Makes 1 12” pancake

1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon rum
3 egg whites
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup raisins
Powdered sugar

Mix together the flour, milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and rum until well combined.

Lightly beat the egg whites with the salt, until stiff, then gently fold them into the flour mixture.

Heat the butter in a large frying pan, pour the schmarren batter in the pan, sprinkle with raisins and fry until cooked on the bottom and the top is beginning to set.

Flip the pancake, add a bit more butter and continue to cook until the other side is crisp. Break up the pancake with two forks. Continue cooking briefly.

Serve, dusted with powdered sugar.

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What is Chianti? Exploring Italian Wines with Italiaoutdoors

chianti_panorama-private-bike-tour-tuscanyWe are off next month on a private bike and wine tour in Tuscany, where we will enjoy panoramic views of the lovely landscape of this region while we explore Tuscany’s best wine areas. Tuscany, and its largest wine zone Chianti, is probably the most famous wine growing area in Italy, even though it is only #6 in terms of wine production.

chianti-zonesThe Chianti regions – there are officially two, Chianti DOCG and Chianti Classico DOCG – lie in the Tuscan hills, in west-central Italy. The first mention of a Chianti wine region dates back to 1716, when Cosimo de Medici defined this wine zone.  This original zone, today the Chianti Classico DOCG, shown in lighter green on the map, is a hilly area between the cities of Siena and Florence.  You will see many of the villages in this original zone have appended their names with the ‘in Chianti’ designation, such as Greve in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, and Gaiole in Chianti.

antinori-chianti-riserva-private-walking-tours-italyThe Chianti DOCG, shown in darker green, surrounds the original Classico zone with fingers stretching in all directions. This region is divided into seven subzones, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli and Rufina. You will often, but not always, see the subzone identified on the label.

frescobaldi-chianti-rufino-private-bike-tours-italyIn the 1850s, a local landowner, Baron Ricasoli, declared his ‘recipe’ for Chianti, based on the native Sangiovese grape blended with 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia Bianco. The Italian government voted this into law in 1966. As with many Italian wines, as international demand increased in the 1960s, Chianti producers increased production by utilizing lower quality grapes, ultimately flooding the market with inferior wines. These Chianti were packaged in the now well recognized squat bottle with a straw covering, appropriately called a fiasco.

In the 1970s, new investors entered the area, with a renewed focus on quality production. In addition to investing in modern production facilities and new cultivation techniques, many of these new producers began experimenting with the traditional Chianti recipe, replacing the lower quality white grapes with international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This new style of wine became quite controversial, as many viewed these as not  ‘true’ Chianti wines. Today, the official definition of Chianti consists of at minimum 70% Sangiovese, with a maximum of 10% white grapes allowed. Permitted blending grapes are traditional native varietals such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Chianti Classico wines must be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, with white grapes no longer allowed at all.

chianti-varietals-wine-bike-tours-tuscanyAging requirements vary from subzone to subzone; the Riserva designation indicates a Chianti that has been aged for a minimum of 2 years (instead of 4-7 months). Chianti that meets even more stringent requirements on yield, alcohol content and dry extract, may be labelled as Chianti Superiore, although Chianti from the “Classico” sub-area is not allowed to be labelled as Superiore.

chianti-barrels-private-walking-tours-italyA Chianti bottle will often have a picture of a black rooster (gallo nero) on the neck of the bottle, indicating that the producer is a member of the Gallo Nero Consortium. This is an association of producers of the Classico sub-area that work together to jointly promote the Chianti brand. The ‘gallo nero’, a traditional figure denoting peace between long time rivals Florence and Siena, has been the emblem of the Chianti Classico producers association since 2005. Legend has it that in 13th century Florence and Siena decided to use a horse race to end their land dispute over Chianti. The meeting point of two knights, who had left respectively from Florence and Siena when the rooster sang at dawn, would mark the new border. The Florentines selected a black rooster and kept it for a few days in a box with no food. On the day of the race, when they took the rooster out of the box, he sang much earlier than dawn.  Thus the Florentine knight left before the Sienese rider, meeting him only him only 20 km from Siena walls. Since then the black rooster has been the symbol of Chianti: first of the Chianti League in 13th century and then of the Chianti Classico Consortium.
Chianti wines are characterized by their acidity, dryness, and distinctive flavors of cherry and herbs. They are ruby red, moderate in alcohol, and somewhat tannic. Younger, lighter Chianti pairs well with pastas, pizza and panini. A more robust Riserva would be a great match to roasted or grilled meats, such as a thick grilled Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Tuscany’s famed breed of white Chianina cattle.



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Unordinary Trip of the Month and Giveaway

cyclist-amarone-cycling-tour-italyDear lovers of Italy and biking enthusiasts!

Today we are pleased to announce that our Bike the Amarone Wine Roads tour has been nominated as an Unordinary Trip of the Month by InfoHub.com, the #1 travel portal on the Internet specialized in the out-of-ordinary vacations. Passionate about cycling and dedicated to promoting Italian food and wine culture, we are thrilled about this nomination and hope to see more people worldwide choosing to pedal for holiday in Italy in the nearest future.

In light of this, we are glad to offer our guests a special prize! Any of you who book the above tour before September 15, 2017 may be eligible for a very special prize from InfoHub’s sister-company GPSmyCity – publisher of travel apps for Apple and Android. The GPSmyCity app features offline city maps, self-guided walking tours and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide, using which you can turn your mobile into a personal tour guide. With this app you can explore Rome, Venice, Florence, Genoa and many other urban destinations in Italy and further afield on your own, at your own pace. The GPSmyCity app works offline so there’s NO need to worry about roaming charges when traveling abroad.

A lucky winner will be chosen at random to get a one-year full membership of the GPSmyCity app including access to ALL the GPSmyCity content – over 6,500 self-guided city walks and travel articles – to the total value of over $8,000!!!

Book now and enjoy your Italian cycling adventure!

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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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