Saturday, 23 September 2017

Trial by Pranzo: The Piemontese lunch

We literally got back from Piemonte, Italy, this afternoon and I appear to have finally succumbed to The Boy's cold, but there are some blog posts that you get so excited about that they cannot wait for any reason and must simply be written at the first opportunity. This is by far the truth of what I am describing as Trial by Pranzo. I cannot hold it in any longer and must share it with the world.

The Torino skyline from our B&B balcony

If you love travel to try the local food, like me, or you're keen on sampling the wines that an area has to offer, like me, then you'll love the idea of a lunch in Piedmont that gives you the opportunity to try some of the most traditional dishes, served in the traditional fashion. It sounds so innocuous doesn't it? Sort of quaint and homely. So why am I calling it Trial by Pranzo (pranzo being Italian for lunch)? Well, I'll leave you to figure that out for yourself. Strap yourselves in, this may take a little while.

We stopped at the Ristorante Il Faro in Rodello, a place that would be easy to miss but sports the most incredible view of the splendid rolling hills, leading the familiar embrace of the Alps in the distance. Dining there would be worth it for the view alone and we were dutifully led to a table by the window to admire the bright sunlight over the hills as we settled in.

That couple have a very big dog asleep under their table

The first thing you notice is that the restaurant is very clearly frequented generally by locals (always a good sign) just enjoying a regular lunch. The dining room is simple and also a little on the retro side but very, very spacious - apparently they accommodate a huge number of parties and celebrations throughout the year. It was explained to me that we were going to enjoy a very traditional Piemontese meal, with courses being served to you with very little in the way of explanation or choice in advance! However, given that I was assured that the courses would very much be the local cuisine I was more than happy to continue!

And so the waiter came over with two bottles of wine for the table. This was a little to my surprise I will admit as I wasn't aware that we'd actually ordered anything yet, but the Roero Arneis Anterisio 2016 was so refreshing and citrusy that it seemed pointless to protest and better just to go along with it. And anyway, we were starving and so The Boy and I happily tucked in to the bread and grissini on the table whilst sipping our Arneis, admiring the view and waiting for the menu.

And lo and behold, within a short time our chirpy waiter floated along to the table bearing a large silver platter, presenting us with a selection of local meats dished out on to the waiting plates on the table - the melt-in-the-mouth lardo, as well as a variety of salami. And the realisation began to dawn that there would be no menu - just the simple presentation of food for us to enjoy direct to our plates at the table. Rustic and homely presentation for typical dishes of the region.

The cold meats were a winner, but before I was anywhere near working my way through that lot the waiter arrived again - this time bearing a light salad made of cheese and celery, with crunchy walnut jewels hidden inside and topped with generous shavings of truffle. The Insalatina Bergera is apparently a classic dish but one I'll confess I had never seen before and I fell upon it eagerly as the rich smell of the truffle hit my nose. This was an incredible pairing with the Arneis wine and I ate eagerly, although a shared glance with The Boy notified me that we were both beginning to have small worries about the bill that would result from the meal, on account of having already been served more truffle than I normally see in a year...

Yet again, before my plate was empty, the waiter returned again, with an enunciated 'prego' for each 'grazie' given to him by the diners with me. This time we were apparently still on the antipasti with a delicate carpaccio of beef, dressed in olive oil and covered in a mantle of thick shavings of parmesan. It was intensely flavourful, and yet also light and graceful.

The Piemontese are big fans of raw meat. We ate a lot of it. They get away with it because of the incredible quality and the unusual properties of the Piemontese cattle whose unusual biology makes them less fatty and more muscly than other cows with the meat being absolutely tender beyond belief and not requiring any harsh treatment such as the application of heat.

By this point we were assuming that the antipasti would be over and we would amble our way into the Primi, but we were wrong. Our swooping (and extremely hardworking) waiter returned again with the Vitello Tonnato, another curious sounding but deeply delicious speciality of the region. We had tried this one before and were happy to see it, although we were puzzled as to when the starters might finish and we might move on with the meal. The lightly cooked, tender slices of veal are served with a creamy, mayonnaise like sauce that is heavily flavoured with tuna. I know - sounds wrong doesn't it? It really, really isn't. Definitely highly favoured by The Boy and I.

And of course, that wasn't quite it. Are you starting to understand why this is Trial by Pranzo now? We were assured that the Piemontese are rather obsessed with antipasti, understandably as they do it so well, and so we tucked into a warm spinach flan with a gooey fonduta covering. This flan was lighter than an eggless sponge and again perfectly seasoned and full of flavour. I could probably eat this forever. And while I was full and happy, I was starting to think that the bread and grissini I had consumed with the cold meats was probably a rookie error.

We had sunk the bottle of Arneis and just at the right moment started on the Roberto Sarotto Barbera D'Alba, a light fruity wine which matched well with the Primo - the tajarin (a long, thick, noodle like pasta of the area) with a light, creamy ragu and another healthy dusting of truffle shavings. Yet more raised eyebrows between The Boy and myself. This was another highlight for me, beautiful bite to the pasta and a rich, satisfying and deeply flavourful sauce.

The Boy and I were pleased at this point - we had done the primo and now presumably only had the secondo course and dessert to go. Wrong! So obviously wrong. Next up, was the second of the Primi. This is where I hold up my hands about being a terrible, terrible food blogger. I'd clearly hit my stride and managed to demolish the next course without taking a photo. Happily, I'd already enjoyed a dish of teeny ravioli earlier in the week and so please accept this substitute photo instead. This was served in a meat sauce, not butter and sage as pictured above, but still, it gives you the right idea. Happily there were just the two pasta courses.

At which time the waiter insisted upon bringing another bottle of wine to the table. This time a much deeper and enticing Barbaresco. This was to go with the Secondo course, this time thick slices of meat in a meat and vegetable gravy which was both rich and creamy at the same time, served with rustic thick fried potatoes (dare I call them chips?) - again a great match of red meat and beautiful medium bodied wine. I was very much in the swing by this point, even though I had essentially eaten two or three weeks' worth of food this week.

And why just have one second course when you can have two? This time slices of pork in a buttery, creamy sauce, served with roasted fresh glazed carrots. By this time I think I was probably starting to hallucinate slightly, so of course this was the cue for a new bottle of wine to be brought out for us to enjoy with the secondi - an absolutely divine Barbera D'Alba, again by Roberto Sarotto - the Elena La Luna which has benefitted unimaginably from a relatively short aging in oak barriques. Of course by this point the wine was not being finished in the same way as the Arneis, but I did my best to put a decent dent in it. 

And happily it was time for dessert. So as not to be outdone by the other courses, the dessert actually compromised three different desserts all on one plate, but still the finish line was in sight and so I felt that I could hammer on home.

There was the classic Bonet - made with cocoa, rum and amaretti biscuits. This was a lighter, airier version that those we had encountered previously, but of course with all traditional recipes everyone tends to have their own little take on the classic. There was also a soft, slightly wobbly creme caramel and a cream covered sponge cake. I am pleased to report I ate them all. I was even more pleased to start lining up my wine bottles and wine glasses at this point - a food and wine bloggers dream. And we'd done it! The end! Surely it was time for coffee.

But no. Of course no. Why would that be the end of the meal? Three hours down and obviously it was time for the waiter, who by this point had walked about 13 miles just to serve our table, not to mention the 20+ other diners that were there for lunch as well, brought us a few bottles of spirits to sample. Well, after all of those courses you need a hefty digestif right?

The nocciala liqueur was crowned the champion by myself and The Boy, and you can't move without someone feeding you something hazelnut based in Piedmont, so it seemed only right. Both grappas were also delicious and the Amaro del Faro liqueur is definitely something that I will be remembering for another day. I can also highly recommend adding a hefty swig of the hazelnut liqueur to a macchiato - a perfect end to the meal.

Time clearly for a short sojourn to the terrace for some R&R and the small matter of the bill. 30 Euro per head. 30 Euros! We essentially rented the table for less than 10EUR an hour each and they brought us food and drink until we nearly went pop. It was marvellous.

Sadly, this traditional style of restaurant seems to be on the decline, with modern tastes preferring food served plated and preened. However, I absolutely fell in love with it - you couldn't hope for a better introduction to the specialities of the local food culture, all bound up with rustic service of homely dishes and a great wine map of the area to boot. Il Faro is not alone, but there are still others to be found as I have been told.

So thanks to our hosts for taking us to Il Faro and not ruining the surprise! Of course, now I've ruined it for all of you - damn you internet - but I'm sure you see why I was excited to write it up! I cannot think of a better way to while away a day than having a great lunch with excellent company and a truly majestic view. We're already trying to calculate if we had lunch there every other day (no other meals required) vs how long we're likely to live, when we can just retire to Rodello...

Oh, and a cheeky limoncello for the road? Well why not?

Podcast Review: Pop Culture Happy Hour

I'm handing back over to Ginny Copley for another podcast review. If you're not sure what podcasts are all about, read Ginny's guide to how, what, why and when to listen here. Over to you Ginny!

Pop Culture Happy Hour
What is it? A lively, funny, smart and always interesting chat about films, TV and modern culture.
‘Aspiring to be both a friend to the geek and a translator to the confused’

Where to start? This is a weekly Podcast, so it’s always topical. Three guests and host, Linda Holmes, chat each week about what is on offer for you in the wonderful world of pop culture. They’ll inspire you to go and see great movies or stay in and binge on delicious TV shows. You’ll hear about the other stuff too - they’ve had to endure watching it, so we don’t have to. At the end of the review and discussion part of the show, they give us a quick taste of other things that are making them happy this week, which can be anything – a book, piece of music, art. It’s tricky to pick an episode to recommend, as you should probably just go for this week’s one - they’ll be reviewing whatever is current. But, at a push, I’ll pick ‘Master of None And Snatched’, as this episode made me want to give Master of None Season 2 a watch. A nd I was glad I did.
And if you like that one…. Any year, around April you can listen to ‘Our Great Big Summer Movie Preview’. The panel talks about the upcoming summer blockbusters and makes reckless predictions about which one will do the best at the box office. They tell us what they are most looking forward to and which ones they are most scared will bomb. It’s a great format for hearing about which movies you’ll be able to see in the summer months and to place your own bets on this year’s winners and losers.
In a nutshell… What is going to make you happy this week? Pop Culture Happy Hour of course.
Don’t listen if… You really don’t care about films and TV shows
Where to listen?, Stitcher

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Fairtrade chocolate wine matching

The Fairtrade Foundation sent me some delicious chocolate - Swiss produced organic bars from Chocolate and Love. They also sent some lovely sounding recipe cards, but of course I had to do something different!

First of all, I knew that there is a Fairtrade shop in Leicester - Just Fairtrade on St Martin's Square, which I had not really visited much previously other than to pick up the odd gift, so I popped in there to say hello. It is by far the most colourful shop in town, a veritable treasure trove of clothes, gifts, toys, jewellery and food from all around the world, all ethically sourced.

It is a great place to find a unique gift, I saw jewellery boxes that had been made in India from old keys, lovely clothes with vibrant colours and unusual styles as well as, of course, lots of delicious Fairtrade sweets and chocolate! The team there are really welcoming and happy to talk you through their products and give you more information about shopping in a sustainable  way.

On to the chocolate and with the balance of sweet, salty, earthy and crisp in the salted caramel chocolate you'll be pleased to hear that bubbles are a great idea - nothing too dry, so you can look to the Italian sparkling wines for solace. At the time of writing, Aldi has a bottle of Asti Spumante at just £5.39 which would do the job admirably, with the bubbles caressing that rich chocolate flavour as the chocolate melts in your mouth and the light sweetness complimenting the rich tapestry of tastes in the chocolate.

The higher percentage dark chocolate needs something more powerful to complement its rich, earthy and bold flavours - so I would look to something in a Bordeaux red with great luscious savoury tannins. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape makes a great bedfellow with dark chocolate with a high cocoa percentage. The smoky spiciness of Chateau Meaume 2013, £9.99 when you buy 6 bottles at Majestic should hit the spot as well as giving an interesting flavour mixture that is both intriguing and satisfying.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Incredible Pies

I have been fortunate enough to get to know the lovely folk at Incredible Pies of Melton Mowbray over the last few months. Despite their Melton pedigree, they actually make sweet pies - all conceived one Christmas time when they spotted a gap in the market for a hand crafted mince pie with beautiful pastry that is filled right to the top.

Of course, there is not a mince pie to be seen just yet, but instead we were treated to their strawberry pies with a crumble topping and cherry pie. I adore anything cherry and I was really pleased to see that this pie was made with sour cherries so it was full of fruit flavour without being overly sweet. The pastry was also just the right thickness - firm and crisp enough to hold all of the filling, which went alllll the way to the top - but not so thick that it was unpleasant to eat. Well balanced and scrumptious, with one pie definitely being an extremely satisfying size.

Very good with a glass of blackberry wine from Rothley Wines!

The strawberry crumble pie is made with Camarosa strawberries and again is absolutely packed to the rafters with fruit. The crumble topping adds great texture and also more sweetness, so this is a much more straight up sweet experience than the cherry pie which I found more subtle. However, this is not a criticism - sweet pies should be sweet right?

You can catch Incredible Pies at a range of farmer's markets and food fairs around the country, but in particular they will be bringing their pies to the Leicester Foodie Showcase which is being held at James Cafe Bistro on 30th September and is free to enter! Unmissable.

Also, I hear a rumour that Incredible Pies will soon become a regular feature on the menu at the Black Horse in Aylestone - so yet another reason to go to that awesome pub!

Thanks to Incredible Pies for giving us some of the wares to sample :)

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Podcast Review: Love + Radio

It's that time where I hand over the blog to Ginny Copley again for another podcast review. If you missed the first review, or you're unsure what podcasts are and how to listen to them, check back to the first post with its 'How to Listen' guide! Take it away Ginny!

What is it? In-depth portraits that intrigue, surprise and sometimes just blow your mind!
‘An eclectic range of subjects, from the seedy to the sublime’.
However, for me this is also one of the most hit and miss podcasts. I regularly give up on episodes, and yet there are also the most incredible listening experiences in this collection, that just grab your brain. I will point you in the direction of those nuggets of gold.

Where to start? Try the episode ‘No Bad News’ from Season 5 which tells the amazing story of American hypnotist Larry Garrett. Since the 1980s Garrett had given up reading and watching news. He didn’t want the worry and negativity clouding his thoughts and focus on his clients when carrying out hypnosis. So when, in 2001, he received an invitation to Iraq to hypnotise a mystery client, Larry wasn’t particularly clued up on the political situation and he said ‘yes’. What follows is an incredible account of a trip to Baghdad leading into Saddam Hussein’s closest circle.
And if you like that one…. then meet Tim Friede and his slithery pets in the episode ‘Snakes!!!!’ Tim lives by his own rules and likes to push limits. He purposefully gets bitten by his snakes – some of the most venomous in the world. Why? Well luckily for us, he has survived to tell the tale. Season 5 also has ‘How to argue’ which discusses how to successfully have a critical conversation with someone who holds very different views to your own. This episode features Daryl Davis, a black musician, who befriends members of the KKK. And sometimes, he gets them to change their minds.
In a nutshell… Real life stories of unusual characters - unfolding and meandering to take you to places you don’t usually go to.
Don’t listen if… You prefer to have your stories and characters a bit more neatly presented and edited.

Where to listen?, Stitcher, itunes

Friday, 25 August 2017

La Cascinassa - down on the farm

This is the final post inspired by our recent visit to Italy back in June. I know, I can really squeeze the material out of one visit, right? So we went to the Gelato Artigianale Festival in Agugliano, but also took the opportunity to visit some other places - meeting wonderful gelatieri, and experiencing beautiful wines at La Campore. And just up the road from that vineyard, there is a farm. A very beautiful farm. You may remember that we actually met the farmer for the first time in Turin last September and so we couldn't miss the chance to go and see it for ourselves.

It's just a smidge on the picturesque side

La Cascinassa is absolutely beautiful, nestled like seemingly everything in Piedmont in a cosy valley in view of the majestic Alps. The incredible brother and sister team are dedicated to responsible, sustainable farming and use every opportunity to make fantastic produce and capitalise on the natural resources of their area - using the natural cycles of the land and their animals to create wonderful results.

You may be reading this thinking, "this post is just an excuse for her to post a gratuitous number of animal pictures isn't it?" And of course you'd be right. We watched these majestic white cows being fed, meeting the milking herd, the new calves and even the shed of beautiful, muscular bulls. They all have their own role to play on the farm and special feed mixes are created using foraged fodder and carefully balanced feeds depending on the requirements of each cow. All of them have their own name, written on their ear tag. I fell in love with them all, naturally.

Can this just be my job? Feeding lovely forage to lovely placid cows?

The Razza Piemontese is notable for it's grey white colouring in adulthood and a particular gene which causes them to grow more muscle producing the celebrated meat which makes the famous Carne Cruda dish, a delicious and simple raw plate which gets its unsurpassed flavour and texture from these very special cows because of their unparalleled lean to fat ration. They are also prized for their milk which makes fantastic cheese.

As well as the cows, we met chickens, goats and pigs, all of which I got up close and personal with. The goats are milked again to produce superb cheese and all of La Cascinassa's cheeses are notable for the different lengths of aging applied which allow you to compare the fresh product to one that is several months old.

They do exquisite catering using the produce of the farm and after our tour we viewed the newly refurbished classroom and hire space used for events and teaching children about where their food comes from. It's something that we have to some degree in this country, of course the wonderful Gorse Hill City Farm is just down the road from where I write, but it felt like this was something very special indeed, a real nose-to-tail approach with a focus on sustainability and respect for natural processes. It was also my first close encounter with a Harlequin Peacock - an absolutely beautiful specimen who decided to display near-continuously for us and who made an extremely odd, loud and downright hilarious noise.

Our gracious hosts then treated to a sample of their meats and cheeses, all washed down with a robust locally made apple juice which was refreshing and most welcome after an afternoon in the sun. Beautiful sharp fresh cheeses contrasted with the more earthy, strong flavoured aged cheese and this was matched incredibly with fresh grissini and absolutely awe inspiring preserved meats - all made from farm stock.

It was a real privilege to visit La Cascinassa, to see their passion and commitment to their animals and their land and to see the real dedication which leads to these building blocks being made into some of the most simple, delicious food I have had the joy to sample in recent times. A thousand thanks to them for taking so much time to give us an insight into their enviable, but extremely dedicated world.

Better than the Oscar's selfie any day of the week

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Is this the most Leicestershire cocktail in Leicestershire?

We've already talked a lot about the new Leicester-inspired cocktail menu at 33cankstreet, but it really is the gift that keeps on giving.

I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to show you the Melton Martinez - the cocktail which contains the full power of the Ploughman's lunch! No really...

The drink itself is made with Burleigh's Leicester Dry Gin (which the quick-witted amongst you will remember is rumoured to have been inspired by the spicing of a Leicestershire pork pie), Amontillado sherry, sweet Vermouth, and Maraschino liqueur infused with red onion marmalade. 

It is also garnished with a cocktail onion, a spritz of Maraschino liqueur and comes with Melton Mowbray pork pie and Stilton on the side.

The drink has a real kick to it, it certainly holds true to its Martini roots! 

Plus the onion garnish adds a little something extra... However, it has lovely balance in the flavouring - even for a punchy drink it is layered and complex. And I was surprised to find that it matches excellently with both pie and Stilton!

It's a double hitter too - so you get an additional iced serve of the cocktail in an accompanying bottle ready for when you've finished your first glass. Perfect picnic fodder, when lounging around St Martin's Square.

I can't think of anything more Leicestershire that comes in a glass. Except for possibly fox piddle, but I tend not to order that in bars.

What's your favourite place for Leicester-inspired fodder? 
Have you tried the new 33cankstreet drinks yet?

Monday, 21 August 2017

Podcast review: The Sporkful

I'm giving a bit of space over to the marvellous Ginny Copley, who wants to tell you all about some of her favourite podcasts. Look out for her reviews in the weeks to come!
So over to Ginny...

Podcasts – stop, look and listen
I love podcasts. They make me curious about things I never knew I was interested in, and fill my brain with knowledge and questions. They tell me stories that have made me laugh loudly in public and also cry (once while running on a treadmill at the gym). They have taken me to places in the world that I’ve never visited and I’ve gotten to know strangers that I’ll never meet. So yes, podcasts have enhanced my life, and because I hope that you want to have your life enhanced too, I’m collecting some of my favourites together here for your listening pleasure.

How to listen

A podcast is like a radio show that you can listen to anytime. There are different ways you can listen. The easiest is just to go to the podcast website (this is listed at the end of each of the reviews). Find the episode you want on the website and there will be a play function nearby - just press play.

However, that way of listening does mean you need to be right there with your computer and have internet access. If, instead, you want to listen any time on your phone (or other device), then you just need to download the episode. To do that, you need a podcast app. This is also easy and will take 5 minutes:

For iPhones and iPads, use the Podcasts app. You get it from the App Store (it actually comes installed on newer devices – it’s a little purple icon). In the Podcasts app, search for the podcast you’re interested in and download

For Android phones and tablets, try the Stitcher app. Get that from Google Play. Search for your podcast in Stitcher, click 'listen later' and it will download onto your phone.

Once you have the podcast downloaded onto your phone, iPad or other mobile device, you can listen anywhere, no internet access required. While walking, running, gardening, tidying up, working out at the gym, waiting in the dentists waiting room, just stick in your earphones and enter the world of your chosen podcast.

Lots of cars can connect to your phone so you can play podcasts though the car speakers - no more boring car journeys. It depends on the age of the car you are in, you may be able to do this by connecting through Bluetooth or by attaching your device using your charging cable. If you can’t do this in your car, then you could always buy a Bluetooth speaker and just play the podcast in the car.

The Sporkful
What is it? A podcast that tells stories about people through food.
‘We obsess about food to learn more about people’
Where to start? Try ‘Why Lefties Buy Less Soup’ which is all about the gastrophysics of food. It explores what factors, other than the actual taste of food, influence how we perceive and react to what we eat. Can the weight of your fork make you think the food is more tasty? Does classical music playing while you eat make you happier to pay more for your dinner? Would putting ice cream on a white plate make it taste sweeter? Fascinating insights into how our brains and surroundings contribute to our eating experiences. It’s not just down to our tongues and noses!
And if you like that one … Try the episode ‘What if Willy Wonka was your Dad’ where the unusual food of Roald Dahl’s books is discussed and his daughter Lucy recalls midnight feasts with her dad. Later in the episode, the chocolate cake from Matilda is recreated and eaten – including two rather unique ingredients - blood and sweat. Yum.
In a nutshell…. People, psychology, lives, food. And it’s very entertaining
Don’t listen if…. Memories and behaviour in relation to food is just not your cup of tea
Where to listen?, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts  
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