Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Celebrations in Cortemillia and a trip to Limone Piemonte

I woke up nice and early to the sounds of cars tearing through the streets, considerably louder than usual. When I made my way downstairs, Paola filled me in- there was a rally car race through Cortemillia that day. The cars raced right by the hotel with a disturbing swiftness. I would not be biking today, that was a sure thing! After breakfast, where I ate some small, delicate fresh plums, I prepared the bread for that evening. Carlo had already made the dough, but he entrusted me to finish the bread. It felt good kneading the hazelnuts and herbs into the dough, rolling them to form balls, and generously spreading oil over the foccacia all on my own. I cleaned the kitchen and then made Carlo and I’s salads as Paola was taking an afternoon siesta. I added rounds of fresh mozzarella that puts American mozz to shame. At home, I really only enjoy the mozzarella di bufala, rich and full of flavor. Here, the plain milk mozzarella is delightful. As you bite into a piece, it’s milky juices ooze out, full of rich cheesy goodness.
Following lunch, Paola and I departed the hotel, not far behind Carlo, to attend “Shop’n Centro,” the big ceremony Carlo had been planning for weeks. The event took place on the main street of the town where they were opening new shops and celebrating the success of businesses which would hopefully bring in new commerce and tourism. We arrived just in time for the ribbon cutting, a long extension of the Italian flag, and the performance of a small band which marched through the streets announcing the celebration. The citizens of Cortemillia leisurely followed behind, investigating new stores with curiosity and chatting with shop owners. We stopped in the main square where people were gathered and got some gelato. Paola ordered for me, and I received a cone towering with pistacchio and fiore di latte ice cream. Fiore di latte is a flavor I have never previously experienced and my introduction was a pleasure. Fiore di latte translates to milk of the flower and is simply a plain, lightly flavored frozen cream. It is one of my new favorites! We journeyed back onto the square where the band performed again and a crane let loose a net stuffed with balloons to a waiting crowd of kids below. The air filled with the sounds of giggling children and popping balloons as they jumped and stomped to reach the goodies inside.
Paola and I headed back to Hotel San Carlo, stopping in various stores along the way. She attempted to buy me unnecessary presents that I had to firmly, but politely, refuse time and time again. I think I am like the daughter she never had! We made it back with a bag full of Paola’s purchases. After a quick swim to wash off the heat of an oppressive afternoon spent outside, I got ready for dinner service. Carlo and I did the usual prep and then we started on the filling for ravioli. We ground up veal and pork and added the meat to a pan with sauteed onions, lardo, garlic cloves and herbs. The meat cooked and as the liquid evaporated, we added white wine allowing the moisture to once again steam off. We stirred in cooked spinach and Carlo instructed me to spoon the entire mixture through the grinder two additional times resulting in a paste like substance that would be used for filling. We propped up to pot to allow the juices the spinach had absorbed to drip to one side and left the mixture while we began dinner service. I took a spoonful of the mixture, to ensure it wasn’t contaminated of course, and relished in the complex flavors of the meat that balanced perfectly with the spinach. The bite wet my appetite and I prepared a plate of prosciutto and cheese to fulfill my growing hunger. I then threw together a quick and satisfying dinner of pasta with tomatoes, cubes of mozzarella and strips of fresh basil.
Dinner was very light as there were only 7 people dining in the restaurant. I took advantage of the leisurely atmosphere in the kitchen, watching each dish being made and taking in every detail so I could imitate it myself when the time came. I also kept up with Carlo and Marlene, there to finish off a dish or chop an ingredient when appropriate, especially when the need for speed was heightened. It felt good knowing I could help rather than hinder and I could see I was becoming part of the team. Carlo finished the night making the special sugar coated hazelnuts that are served as a light dessert after every dinner. The method was simple- melt butter and add water and pernod, allow the mixture to bubble heartily, stir in the hazelnuts and sugar and allow to rest. The result is a crunchy and sweet bite, which lingers in your mouth as you reminisce on your meal, the perfect finish. However, in the kitchen, they pose a different purpose. Every time I walked by the drying pan of nocciole, I couldn’t resist popping one or two in my mouth and savoring the sweetness. I must have consumed a quarter of them along with the other staff of the kitchen who seemed to have a similar lack of control! As we finished cleaning, I chatted with Marlene and Elena, a server. It was refreshing to talk to the girls, close to my age, even if it was a jumbled conversation of Italian and English.

I awoke with a start to Paola banging on my door ranting in Italian that it was time to get up. Today we were taking a “family” trip to Limone Piemonte!! Ricky is attending a soccer camp in the town and we were heading there for a visit. I quickly got ready then headed downstairs for some breakfast. Once everyone was ready, we hopped into the red Durango and hit the road! Limone Piemonte is about a 2 hour drive straight into the mountains. I watched the Italian scenery fly by and listened to the rapid conversations of Carlo and Paola as they discussed family matters which Carlo told me business doesn’t normally leave much time for.
I was surprised to note an apparent difference in Carlo’s driving as he slowly meandered around curves and as we stopped in a small town I was enlightened. Paola had a delicate stomach, irritated by the curvy, winding roads leading us to Limone Piemonte so Carlo had to keep a slow pace, deliberately navigating each turn. We entered a cafe, hoping to settle Paola’s stomach with espresso and croissants so she would not “vomito”. The bar also had a small pasticcerria and boasted fresh pastries and tarts. The Zarri’s purchased a torta di ciliegie, a lattice topped tart filled with black cherry jam. Satiated, we resumed our journey. As we made our way uphill, swinging back and forth along the curves, I fell into a light sleep. I awoke to the familiar sounds of Giovanotti and the very unfamiliar sight of towering mountains. The mountains were beautiful, blanketed in rich greenery. It seemed I had awoken at the perfect time as we pulled in Limone Piemonte moments later. I was struck by familiarity as soon as we entered the town. To my astonishment, Limone Piemonte resembled Whistler, the Olympic city in Canada I had visited only weeks before. It was no doubt a skiing town, lightly wooded and surrounded by steep slopes. The buildings are nothing like I have ever seen before in Italy. Many buildings were built with stone and wood detailing and every shutter and door was wood in stark contrast to the metal coverings typically found all over Italy. The town was dead, as if it only regained life when covered in snow and full of people indulging in the wonders of winter sports.
As I took in the sights with amazement, we pulled into a small hotel where Ricky was staying during the duration of his camp. Finding that the youngsters were at the soccer fields, we took a quick ride to the sports center. We arrived to the “base camp” which had rock climbing walls, tennis and basketball courts and soccer fields along with a small bar for tired athletes. The base camp was beautiful, surrounded on three sides with beautiful mountains. We said hi to Ricky, who was visibly embarrassed by the doting Paola, and then left to get lunch. We headed to the top of a long, winding road to dine at a restaurant which the Zarri’s know well. Unfortunately, it was closed for the summer but as we winded back down we stopped for a wonderful surprise! Being much farther west than Cortemillia, we were right on the border of France. Carlo pulled over at the border, which appeared to have no control or boundaries, just a sign noting the country divide. I hopped out of the car in Italy and in a matter of steps I was in France! We took some dorky tourist pictures and then headed into Limone Piemonte to try to find a place to eat. Carlo parked the car in the city center and we got out to wander. It wasn’t long before we settled down at a restaurant where I ordered veal carpaccio (can’t get enough) and penne all’arrabbiata. Conversation at lunch was interesting, as always. Carlo is constantly switching between English and Italian in an attempt to keep us both informed and entertained. Paola taught me words in Piemontese dialect, as if I’m not already confused enough!! “Dooma,” the replacement for andiamo (let’s go) has become our mantra and we constantly chant it as we go places, “dooma, dooma, dooma!” After lunch we spent a couple hours exploring the city and peering into shop windows. We got some gelato, stracciatella and roche for me, and ate it as we meandered through the ghost town. We came to a hotel and stepped inside to explore. They had a newly built spa and were kind enough to give us a tour through the sauna, steam rooms, private massage rooms and pool. I wished we could have stayed to be pampered, but it was time to go see Ricky and watch his soccer matches! We arrived at the field to find the boys had not yet arrived and we settled underneath an umbrella. The weather gets hotter every day and is beginning to become oppressive, so even in the shade of the umbrella we were sweating. I was enjoying my kindle, getting lost in A World Without End, when the team arrived and a young Italian boy questioned me, asking “questo ipod?”. I attempted to explain the kindle to him in broken Italian and when I mentioned I was American, he seemed perplexed. His confusion only grew as Paola told him I was Ricky’s sister. The conversation was silly and brief, but I was proud of myself for managing any conversation at all. I’m learning!! We watched the teams scrimmage against each other and I sat amused as the young boys celebrated their goals, screaming with glee and jumping each other, obviously imitating what they saw on television. Ricky played the role of goal keeper and was visibly a team leader, shouting across the field at this teammates and being the eyes of the team. When the time came for a water break, we said our goodbyes and headed home. I of course fell fast asleep dreaming of our wonderful day in Limone Piemonte. When I awoke, Paolo told me the story of an old castle that had served at a summer home for the King hundreds of years before. He would go to the huge property for a couple of days each year to hunt. It was now home to a hotel and some lucky residents. The property also included a school Carlo explained to me as a food university. Students go there to simply learn about food, not just the act of cooking it. They are educated on wine and cheese, becoming experts on all things gastronomic. It sounded like my life’s dream.Carlo quickly drove us through so I could catch a glimpse of the enormous castle and snap some photos. We arrived home relatively late in the evening, but as the restaurant was closed we enjoyed a quiet evening of relaxation and I managed to spend some time catching up with people back home.

Images top to bottom:
cutting the tape at Shop'n centro
filling for ravioli
Limone Piemonte
carpaccio di vitello
Carlo enjoying the soccer game with a newfound friend
the church on the property of the King's "summer home"

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

Limone Piemonte

Carlo and Paola cooling off at a fountain

What a terrible place to play soccer!

No comments: