Friday, July 9, 2010

Grinzane Cavour and Kitchen Updates

Tuesday morning was a very relaxed one. I slept in, updated my blog and made a quick lardo and tume, the local Piemonte cheese, sandwich. Following lunch, Carlo and I were headed to Grinzane Cavour for a press conference Carlo had to attend. He said it was a beautiful drive through the vineyards of Barolo to a wonderful castle with panoramic scenery. The drive was short, only about 45 minutes, and when we arrived I realized I had been there before! Two years ago when I was studying in Firenze I visited Cortemillia along with 2 of my friends from the program. To pass the time one day, we visited a castle Carlo recommended and it was this very one! On that particular day we toured the castle and had a fabulous lunch, with large, robust glasses of barolo, overlooking the beautiful vines through a big, arched window. Unfortunately for me, the castle was closed for the day and I could only reminisce from the outside looking in. Instead of touring the inside, I headed off down the main, albeit only, street in Grinzane to explore. The houses in Grinzane are much larger than typical dwellings here. It must be all those prosperous Barolo makers living the life of luxury! I passed through the residential area and past a school of agriculture. I continued on until I reached the road’s end where the concrete slowly disintegrated into dirt. How fortunate for me, it had landed me right in the heart of a vineyard and I was encompassed by vines no doubt covered with Nebbiola grapes, the essential element to Barolos and Barbarescos, the best wines in Italy.I craved a glass of the bold red but in the small town, I couldn’t seem to find anything that was open. I immersed myself in the vineyard, taking in the beautiful scenery and touching the small, green grapes which had yet to ripen. I soon headed back to the castello and along the way in both directions I had seen no one. It was a very peaceful and beautiful walk. Reaching the castle, set at the top of a large hill, I once more took in the breathtaking scenery that surrounded me on all sides. To pass the time while waiting for Carlo, I settled down underneath a tree in the yard of the castle and read my book. Before long, the press conference was over and we headed back to Cortemillia. On our way down, Carlo explained to me the landscape of the area. Near Grinzane, we passed through a small town whose name translates into “the balcony of the Langhe,” so called because it is at the top of the mountain and on overlooks the surrounding area, known as Langhe, on both sides. On one side, vineyards could be found spanning the hills for miles and miles on end. On the other, because of a different landscape and soil content, the hills were covered in hazelnut trees. On this particular drive, we were traveling through the vineyards which made for beautiful scenery. Carlo and I discussed school in America, as his son Ricky is considering making the jump for his University education. Back home, Carlo made me a fluffy fritatta which I savored before launching into prep for dinner service. It was another light night, with only 6 diners, so the evening went by easily without a glitch.

Wednesday was a day of cooking! We had plans to make gnocchi in the morning so I set my alarm extra early. I came downstairs and had my breakfast, ready to make gnocchi at nine and to my surprise Carlo was not awake.
Marlene (the sous chef) informed me we would wait for him to wake up. It was really a funny thing because the previous morning I had missed ravioli as I slept in and Carlo teased me about it, questioning me multiple times before I went to bed, inquiring if I would really be awake for gnocchi! I took advantage of the extra time and sent some emails and before long, Carlo had arisen from his slumber complaining of insomnia. All delays aside, the three of us got to work in the kitchen. Marlene removed the cooked potatoes from a pot of boiling water and mashed them onto a huge metal worktable. She cracked multiple eggs over them and sprinkled flour over the mixture. Then Carlo got to work, mixing the ingredients to form a huge mound of bright yellow dough. He then formed it into a loaf shape and cut off small strips which we had to roll into long cylinders that would be cut into individual gnocchi and tossed with cornmeal. It seems I was a natural! As I was working Carlo came over twice to complement my work, and I was very proud. The dough is very delicate and it takes a certain technique, along with some getting used to, to roll the dough into cylinders without simply smashing it. I can’t wait to try this at home and serve it to my family and friends!! Next, Carlo gave me a lesson in making crepes. He quickly whipped together the batter, a simple recipe, and we formed an assembly line, ladling the batter into buttered pans and removing them when cooked to cool. After they were all made, we stuffed them with a ricotta and sauteed vegetable mixture, rolled them, and laid the final product out on a baking sheet. These would later be covered in a b├ęchamel sauce and parmesan cheese and baked in the oven. For our last small project Carlo showed me how to make an aspic with Moscato D’asti, a sweet dessert wine produced locally. The dessert was made by mixing gelatin and sugar into the Moscato, cooking, then adding to prepared pans filled with fresh mint and peaches. The dessert set in the fridge and was ready to serve, sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar alongside more fresh fruit. It was a long, but productive morning in the kitchen. I took a few hours to have lunch and relax before my date at 2. Carlo networked with a friend from worked and set up a meeting with me and a young girl who lives in town and speaks English. When she arrived we met briefly and she sat down with Carlo to discuss an event they are working together to plan. After their short meeting, we went to sit in the garden and chat, mostly in English. Alice gave me a chance to speak in Italian but the results were downright embarrassing. I have a lot of work to do still! We left on a positive note, exchanging email addresses and contact information. Alice even left me with some tips to improve my Italian, sharing with me some great resources online I can use to my advantage.
With little time to prepare for dinner, I grabbed a shower and made a quick dinner- penne with a light, creamy tomato sauce and an added bite of peperoncini. Dinner service was for 16 that night, an exciting and welcome change! The orders kept coming and for a couple of hours, it was a mad dash in the kitchen, with all of us rushing to get the plates out on time while maintaining the perfection of each dish. As often happens on a busy night, it was over before I knew it and as I helped clean the kitchen I was filled with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I would be perfectly happy if dinner were this way every night!

Images top to bottom:
Il Castello di Grinzane Cavour
Nebbiola grapes
Kitty in the citty ~ another cat that refused to let me pet him :(
Prepping for gnocchi
Putting the finishing touches on gnocchi
Veggie crepes in the making
The order board

The trees near the vineyards- if you look very closely on the right in the middle there is a deer! I know it is impossible to see but Carlo said I was very lucky to have seen one so I had to post it! (click to enlarge)

The beautiful vineyards

View from il castello

Lump of gnocchi dough

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