Monday, November 28, 2011

A Piemonte House Party


Readers of these pages might recall my post called "A Castle," in which I described a very warm and welcoming old castle in the foothills of the Alps to the east of Turin. This, above, is a view of it crowning the hilltop of Montemagno, the old stomping ground of Barbarossa. We, and several other friends of the Count Ascanio Calvi di Bergolo and his wife, Letizia, were invited for a truffle weekend—this is where they dig them up, after all!

The town of Montemagno is home to several lovely churches, which we passed on Saturday morning as a few of us took an eight kilometer long walk through the surrounding countryside.

You can see our home base, with its crenellated roof, peeking out at the upper left. It's a small town in the middle of nowhere but look at the extraordinary elegance of this 17th century architecture.

And off we go into the early morning sun.

Left to right: Paolo Rossi, Gil Cohen, Carolina Rossi, Ascanio and Letzia Calvi.

We passed this delightful little antique chapel, miles from any paved road.

The weather has been fantastic here throughout the whole month of November.

Later on we visited Asti and had lunch at Eataly. You might have heard of Eataly in New York, well the whole idea was born here in Piemonte. There's now an Eataly even in Tokyo and in several other Japanese cities! You're asked to feel that it's all very "affordable," as you sit down at your paper place mat to find an upside down paper cup (presumably for your imported Italian table water—imported in the case of faraway Eatalys that is). Left to right: Gil Cohen, Carolina Rossi, Ascanio Calvi, Daniela Blom, Letizia Calvi.

Sunday morning, back at the castle, the anticipated truffle pranzo.

Fresh tagliatelle, very eggy home made noodles.

The quick hand of our generous host slices his baseball-sized truffles with an antique truffle knife.

My serving. Perhaps it might sound elitist to say this, but (this is an elitist blog) until you've eaten the Piemonte white truffle a few steps from where they're found and only a day or so later you've never really eaten an Italian white truffle. Aren't I awful?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Private Gardens of Guatemala


One of the loveliest old cities of central America Antigua is something of a garden destination. The whole city, for that matter, has the feel of a garden. The eighteenth century ruins of baroque style churches, toppled in the earthquake of 1717, which destroyed more than 3,000 buildings, now stand or lie in lush fern-lined public lawns, and wild orchids grow in the chiseled blocks of volcanic rock. Hidden in amongst these once imposing cathedrals and monasteries are stunning gardens surrounding palatial homes, like the one shown above.

Clivias are a welcome bloom in winter. Here in my temperate climate of Tuscany I have to keep them under cover in the colder months, but in the highlands of Guatemala they're very much in their element.

You don't need any green thumb to get things to grow here—your planting efforts are assured of success before you ever put trowel to earth. This is a winter scene, when the flowering of tropical plants is perhaps at its most generous.

The avocado originates in this part of the world. In this particular garden the forty foot tall avocado trees are so giving that there are far too many to eat. And they're enormous! Dogs eat them in the night.

Charming pots and bits of archeology are easy to come by here as are beautiful hand made materials to build with.

This interior courtyard takes the classic monastic form—that the inner parts are filled with Ophiopogon jaburan 'Vittatus' attests to the cool climate of high altitude tropics.

You see quite a few of these stuccoed fountains and raised planters in the gardens here, almost always colored that delicious shade of cherry red.

This antique fountain, from the golden era of the city when as central American capitals go it was rivaled only by Havana, has been recently placed in this private, residential garden.

This elegant weekend home was developed upon the footprint and ruins of an old convent, damaged in the earthquake.

But this classic structure, of the 17th century, is an earthquake survivor.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When Brunch is 4,000 Miles Away

my favorite food blogger

There are no crumpets in Italy. You have to make them yourself. But it's not so difficult.

The hardest part is that you need crumpet rings—I just bought these at Peter Jones in London.

You put in the batter.

Seven minutes.

The cats are curious.

Our last bloody Marys of the season—if we don't make them with our own fresh tomatoes, then no.

My beauties.

Voila! Who needs South Beach!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pescia and Lunch


One of the things I love the most about living where I do is the diversity. You can get up on a Saturday morning and decide to drive half an hour and find yourself in a completely different world. Pescia, in that corridor of cities that lies between Pisa and Florence, is one of the least visited in our immediate surroundings. In fact, we couldn't remember if we'd ever roamed its narrow streets before. The restaurant shown above, Atman, is of the city's gastronomic attractions—we'll get back to it in a minute.

On Saturday morning, in the center of the old city, there's an old fashioned market where fruits and vegetables are sold in the charming atmosphere of this 16th century loggia.

With a minimum amount of culinary talent anybody could turn out a decent meal when these are the working ingredients.

Everything is local, even this prosciutto.

But we thought we'd put lunch in the hands of these serious cooks at Atman, just a few steps away from the piazza shown above. Here's Gil, ready for action!

Readers of my blog know that we don't really go in for haute cuisine but we do like the elegance such places propose. I admired this fine white linen and the elliptical bread plates, one black one white.

This was a spinach budino, like a light custard, with a dusting of bottarga on top.

A scampi salad. The little green patch on the right was an "iced" purée of broccoli, and the leaf thing is made of purple Peruvian potatoes.

This might appear to be a straightforward plate of shrimp and razor clam spaghetti, but it's not. The fresh egg pasta is briefly fried in oil first, giving it a slight crispness, then the fish stock is ladled in as needed to finish the cooking. The result is something beyond al dente! Superb!

Squid in tomato on a bed of very light fresh polenta with a dollop of savory tomato ice cream.

White chocolate mousse with chocolate dipped cereal.

Hazelnut in two ways, one mousse one ice cream, all flecked with silver.