If you are ready to be overwhelmed by intoxicating aromas and your pockets are deep enough, you have to go to Alba, in the Italian region of Piemonte, where the Truffle World Market is held, every year in October.
The most precious of truffles, the white type, is an underground mushroom, growing at the roots of poplar, birch, hazelnut, oak trees. Alba is the area where the White Truffle spontaneously grows.
This tuber, defined as the diamond of the kitchen, is literally hunted for by highly specialized individuals (Trifulau) with their specifically trained dogs. Before dawn the Trifulau leaves with is dog to his secret places, making sure nobody is following.
The season this year was very dry and the harvest quite scarce, sending the price to frightening levels of 30 Euros a gram, equivalent to 120 US Dollars an Ounce!
Sales were scarce as a matter of fact, visitors from all over the world were passing by and pondering rather than buying.
A favorite way to savor truffle is to slice it over butter tagliolini. The intense aroma is carried by the humid warmth of the pasta directly to the receptors of your nose.
I would say this is an ancestral feeling, probably explaining the irrational price and success of White Truffle.
Beside the famous, strong, sweet wine, Marsala has some interesting produces. Salt may seem trivial, well, it is not.
Faced to the regular Mediterranean wind coming from west this blessed land had the ideal climate to extract salt from sea water, since the first human settlements, through the Greeks, the Romans and today. Since that time and for ages afterwards salt was so important for food preservation and human nutriment to be regarded as money. Hence the word “salary” we still use today.
In Marsala a saltwork still produces the salt on the same spot, the same way of two or three millennia ago, with Sun, wind, and seawater.
It is a beautiful view: huge, shallow pools are placed in degrading order to bring seawater inland with the help of traditional sail windmills. Pool after pool, the water changes color and while evaporating it thickens, leaving all the mineral it contains until, in the last pool, blinding white piles of sodium chlorite are amassed, by hand, in cones.
This slow process produces the best salt for human usage, healthier than rock salt where all the minerals are still present along with the chemical products used for extraction. Pure seawater salt can be identified on the box and by its higher price. The difference is affordable and a moderate use of the good one is advisable.
Marsala is near Trapani, can be reached by flight, or Ferry and has very beautiful surroundings, including the Aegadian Archipelago with the island of Favignana, alone worth the trip.
One of the good things of travelling in Italy is that, in a time span of two or three hours you can completely change your perspective. I mean landscape, climate, cuisine and also people, sound of the language and historical setting.
Distances are relatively small and if you want to avoid the stress of traffic, the train is a great option. Recently the italian rail backbone has been connected into a high speed train network so that Northern, Central and Southern Italy, as well as the rest of Europe are now closer and easy to reach.
When tired of the cold Northern Italian winter the best way of getting to the warm light of Rome is train. From where we live and work, near the main rail hub of Bologna, it only takes three hours of comfortable ride.
The fact that in some legs of the trip, this beastly machine may speed up to 300 kilometres per hour is a great thing for us, believers in the Faith of Progress. However not to be mentioned to the others, the “non believers”. Yet users!
You will get an extra bonus by taking a seat by the window. As the Italian landscape, flows and changes, this is an experience that you would like to do over and over again. The large glass window is not a TV monitor, it is all real and about nature, while it is guaranteed that during the return trip you will be watching a new show, under a different light.
Starting from the hazy, rich cultivated plains of Emilia, after crossing or better piercing the Appennines, the train rides Tuscany, where the sky takes new colours and a different depth.
You start realising that you are close to Rome entering the ample Tevere river valley.
Within minutes you are there, ready to be engulfed in the noise and frenzied activity of this unique city.
Verona is about one hour drive from where we live and work. It is a very elegant town and full of historical buildings. Placed as it is at the entrance of the Brenner valley, that connects Northern Italy to Austria and Germany it has always been a capital for the succeeding ruling peoples in each time of its long, long history.
Not every time I go there do I visit the famous monuments, like the Arena, or spill a tear or two under the balcony of Juliet (great fiction, isn’t it?): we go there for shopping!
Via Mazzini starting from the Arena, ending at the Piazza delle Erbe, has the most elegant shops and as spring is approaching my wife Gabriella stops at every, I mean every, window for shoes, purses that seem to be a “must have” for the new season.
Luckily she is a sensible girl and most of the shopping is made with her eyes. It is a kind of activity that quickly bores me and over the years we found a reasonable compromise in splitting our ways after the first five or maximum six windows. This is when different interests come into place, why to insist?
Last Saturday I happily went alone, hunting for curious things in the narrow roads departing from Piazza delle Erbe. I found this beautiful Salumeria where a lot of prosciutto legs are hanging inside, while the front windows still keep the original fixtures and sign.This I what I call a window! And look at the inside. An Easter Chocolate Egg is just waiting to be bought! Going inside I could not resist buying thinly sliced prosciutto, craftily packed with three different types of paper: oily paper for the slices, a thin transparent divider, everything rolled and wrapped on Havana coarse paper. The perfume of this little pack accompanied me until we finally got home that evening… Gabriella did not bother; she was craving to show me her new shoes.
Last Saturday my family and I made a day out in Viareggio, in Versilia the Tuscany Coast of the Mediterranean sea.
As it was a sunny and warm winter day we went for a stroll on the beach now empty of people and umbrellas.
Viareggio is a quite interesting place. Facing the seafront, Passeggiata a Mare, there are beautiful buildings in liberty architecture.
We were delighted to find one of the beach establishment open and serving food. My choice was for a light dish, that could be an idea for a tasty appetizer or a light meal, Insalata di polpo. Octopus Salad, is easy to prepare and healthy.
What I found quite curious are the bathing establishments: their entrances to the beach are built along the style of the seafront buildings. The arches and the signs are liberty, eclectic and art deco and many of them have been beautifully restored to their original splendour of early 1900.
It is a nice contrast with the idea of easy going life that beaches bring along. Also the font used in the signs belong to the same époque and bear a resemblance with the typefont of our original Bertazzoni Logo.
I really enjoyed shooting pictures, seeing an artistic touch where it is not expected.
Insalata di Polpo – Octopus Salad
Clean the octopus and hammer it for a good ten minutes with a meat pounder, to make it tender. If octopus is frozen you do not need to hammer it. Boil Octopus in salted water with for about 20 minutes each pound (500g). Let it cool with the water until you can take it with your hands. By doing so you can easily remove the outer skin that is usually a bit slimy.
Cut the octopus and boiled potatoes into small round pieces, dress with an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette, a generous handful of freshly chopped parsley, black ground pepper; ready!