Weekend food: Raclette – Valais

link – becoming a raclett-eur in Sion:  http://www.rts.ch/video/info/journal-12h45/4873423-minimag-des-cours-de-raclette-existent-desormais-a-sion.html


It’s best in the early evening, after a long walk up there, way beyond the noise and scents of the valley, maybe along paths you’ve gone on many times before but they’re never the same, changing from hour to hour as the light shifts, as the clouds bring shadow, as winter snow melts or a hot summer sun makes the rocks more golden or bright or gray or sugar white. Then before night comes with all the light above, the milky way, the clear sky that you never get to see anymore unless you live up there or in the desert somewhere, the easy, sweet air, the bells of the Herens cows somewhere off where you can’t see, place some rocks in a circle and light up the fire as the sun just begins its dip for the night. Have a drink or two once you’ve put the potatoes on to bake, fingerlings, maybe  slice of dry meat or chunky, rustic salami.


You don’t need many words. You’ll be feeling similar things, all of you sitting tired and serene after the paced hike, wether 2 or 5 or 8, it’l still be a deeply pleasing moment. Then once the potatoes are cooked you take the pickled onions and open another bottle of Fendant, the one Emile or Davide or Richard made from the small patch of vine on the mountainside below and out comes the half round of cheese, Raclette, a local one made from the milk of cows high up in their summer grazing grounds. It’s a potent smell of leaves and fertile soil and flowers, a melange of odors waiting to come together wafting off the deep cream color, solid and heavy and rich. Set it down in front of the fire until a layer begins to melt away. Then lift the round and with a broad knife slush the melting, now harmonious mix into a plate and then slice gently back up for the slightly caramelized rind. Pass the plate to the first, who will grab a hot potato, slice it through and add a good bit of cheese, maybe grate some black pepper on top first. The cheese and tuber dissolve as he chews, nourishing and generous, as if the mountain itself were giving a quick massage, an approval of the day. Then he drinks a sip of wine and as the next plate comes for the the next layer of bubbling, melted raclette.

Soon enough it’ll be your turn. For now, you can wait with serene patience. Like the mountain.





Weekend Recipe: Uncle Silvio’s Baked Pasta with Mozzarella and hard-boiled eggs: Abruzzo (video)

There’s no denying the cliche: returning to the sea is a bit like coming home. The other day I popped over to the Adriatic coast, Abruzzo, to attend to a couple of things and see some familiar faces. The rock barriers there in some places come right up close to the beach. I couldn’t resist the temptation to wade through a few feet of sea to climb onto one. Once over the top and seated on the other side, the side facing out to the sea, everything seems more quiet. The cautious mini crabs scrambling around beneath, the various small fish that swim around the barrier in different colored and sized schools, the tranquil sound of the easy waves that reverberate in the rocks, the hues of blue and green under the sun, the endless horizon, take away much of anything else on your mind. It’s where we come from. So I got a little wet. But despite it being on the cost, Abruzzo isn’t really a seaside region.

It is a necessary background though, the sweet-scented Adriatic – (nowadays rather more filthy than a few decades ago and flattened on its floor, far beneath the water line, from all the heavy fishing nets.) But just walk a few hundred meters away and there begins Abruzzo proper. Strong and gentle … and stocky. Beautiful, but not the beauty of, say, the Alps – that can take your breath away, if you’re susceptible to it, without, as it were, even trying. Abruzzo’s beauty is not for everyone. Every corner is not a picture-postcard as certain more famous places in Tuscany or the lakes in the North. It’s not snobby, not chic. Let’s say that if Saint Tropez or Portofino are for you, you probably will not find your earthly heaven here.

Its beauty instead offers you the best of itself. It will let you into its forests, rivers, mountains of pure rock, even its wooden fishing huts, ‘trabocchi’, which seem almost like expressions of fatalism on this coast of west Europe’s greenest region. Strong and gentle, that’s Abruzzo. It’ll touch something solid inside, if you are willing to let it.

As will many of its people, (although things are changing there as well. The bi-forcation of resources: socialism for the wealthy, a sort of corporate fascism for the rest of us. Oh brave new world…) The men in these parts after a certain age begin to resemble the territory from which they came, even when they emigrate. Their faces take on more and more the appearance of the shapes of the rocks and mountains, their bodies often become a bit like the trunks of trees, low but broad and strong. They grow old well. Women often posses more or less an infinite supply of physical energy and are loaded with practical intelligence, kind of like Madonna. Which is to be expected. They worked hard here, nothing for free. And they still work, when they can find work. You need hearty food for all that hard labor.

Uncle Silvio, Silvio is affectionately called by 99.7 percent of the inhabitants of his town – the last .3 percent not yet only because they moved in last Wednesday and don’t know him yet – is a classic Abruzzese. Honest, hard worker. Won’t ever try to screw you. We’re not in Rome. Here they still fight over who has the honor to pay the restaurant check, not the other way around. Uncle Silvio doesn’t eat fish, and rarely goes to sea. But the pretty hill-top village where he lives has a pure and sweet view right onto the Adriatic that lightens all the other burdens of life. Silvio is always ready to give you the best of himself and his cuisine. Authentic stuff, traditional flavors, of great substance. And calories. You may think, after eating lunch or dinner at his place, that eating is the main Abruzzesan activity during weekends. It isn’t. Digesting is. But with pleasure. And with a view of the Adriatic Sea, always present, a substrate on which the Abruzzo rests.

For the baked pasta:
360 grams of short, thick pasta (like mezze maniche or rigatoni, paccheri, etc.)
Salt & pepper

2L. of tomato passato or around 20 skinned and cleaned tomatoes
broth or other liquid
2-4 sausages
1 chunk of beef, 3-400 grams (under-shoulder or other 2nd category cut, something with fat – but good quality meat)
1 chunk of lamb, 200 grams 1/-
200 grams or so of ground round or mixed hamburger meat
4 boiled eggs
1-2 mozzarelle
1 onion
dry red wine, 1 glass
2 celery stocks
2 cloves garlic
EV olive oil
1 bay leaf
Parmigiano cheese
serves 4

The ragu-stew as usual, brown the ground meat first in some oil on high, lower and add the chopped falvoring (garlic, celery, onion) add the wine and up the heat again, then add the tomato, salt and pepper, then the meat chunks and herbs to taste (bay or thyme or even nothing at all. It’ll still come out delicious,) lower the burner to the minimum of the minimum and let it go low and slow for…., …, … the more the merrier, at least 2-and a half hours stirring now and then and adding liquid as needed. When the sauce has dissolved itself into something lovely red and glistening, with an almost pornographic scent, the meat trembles at a wooden spoons touch… boil the noodles in salted water and the eggs in water with a bit of vinegar. Slice the fresh mozzarella into happy-sized slices, quarter the eggs when they’re done and mix them with the cooked noodles, then spoon in the ragu sauce and mix. Grate some parmesan – real parmigiano though, no, no, no, no Kraft, not ever – and shove the casserole into a hot oven, about 180 degrees celsius, 10-15 mn. or so and if you want some crunch plop on the grill setting near the end for a few minutes – but be careful not to burn. Accompany with a decent Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo and don’t worry about cooking the next day. Not because you’ll still be full but because the solids work great with the remaining sauce as a main course of leftovers. Tonight, in the unlikely event you have any space to left, take a deep breath and…
for the chicken and peppers:
2-4 chicken legs
1 bell pepper
2 potatoes
2 garlic cloves
EV oil
Salt and pepper
white wine (about a glass)

…oil and season the legs and potato chunks, place them in a casserole and shove’em in a hot oven 170 degrees celsius or so.  10 min, then in goes the wine. 10 minutes, then in go the whole cloves lightly crushed, rosemary in peices but still on the branch and thick slices of peeled and cleaned bell pepper. 10min, check the birds and spoon over some of the sauce forming below in the casserole. 10 minutes or so more check again – they’re likely done. The kitchen by now will smell, as it does in Silvio’s, like… home. (Well, if you’re from the the central-south of Italy…)

Weekend Recipe: Zio Silvio – L’Abruzzese

Sapori – Zio Silvio, l’Abruzzese 

Non c’e niente da fare. Tornare al mare e un po come tornare a casa. L’altro ieri ho fatto un salto sulla costa Adriatica in Abruzzo per sbrigare un paio di cose e visitare qualche faccia familiare. Li le scogliere in certi posti avvicinano alla spiaggia. Così non ho resistito alla tentazione almeno di salire su uno. I granchi, i vari pesci che nuotano intorno, il suono delle onde che riverbera nelle rocce, le sfumature di blu e verde sotto il sole, l’orizzonte infinite. Insomma, il solito. Da dove siamo venuti. Così mi sono bagnato un po’. Ma l’Abruzzo non e un posto di mare.

Fa da sottofondo necessario si, quel mare dolce – (e ormai sozzo e sotto nei fondi tutto appiattito.) Ma basta entrare per qualche centinaia di metri e li comincia l’Abruzzo. Forte e gentile e…chiatta. Bella, ma non quella bellezza come gli alpi che può toglierti il fiato, se sei di quel tipo, senza, come dire, faticarsi. Non e per tutti. Ogni angolo non fa da cartolina postale come certe zone Toscane o sui laghi al Nord. Non e snob, non e chic. Diciamo che se Portofino o Saint Tropez fanno per te, probabilmente non sarà il tuo paradiso terrestre. Le sue bellezze invece ti danno il meglio che hanno. Ti mostrano le sue foreste, fiumi, montagne di roccia puro, trabocchi che sembrano quasi espressioni di un fatalismo sulla costa, della regione più verde d’Europe ovest in modo, appunto, forte e gentile. E così raggiunge qualcosa di solida dentro, se sei disposta ad accoglierlo.

Così come fanno tanti Abruzzesi ancora, (anche se le cose cambiano pure li. Che mondo coraggioso e nuove, con quale persone…) Gli uomini da quelle parti dopo una certa eta cominciano ad assomigliare il territorio da dove vengano, anche quando emigrano. Le loro facce assumano sempre di più l’apparenza delle forme delle rocce e montagne, i corpi spesso diventano come tronchi d’alberi un po’ bassi ma larghi e forti. Invecchiano bene. Le donne hanno spesso un capacita’ energica più o meno infinita e un’intelligenza pratica, tipo Madonna. Per forza. Si lavorava parecchio li, vita dura. E quando c’e, si lavora ancora. Per dare benzina a tutta quel zappare ci voleva cibo sostanzioso.

Silvio, Zio Silvio viene chiamata con affetto da circa 99.7 percento degli abitanti del suo paese – l’ultimo .3 percento non ancora solo perché sono arrivati mercoledì scorso – e un’Abruzzese DOC. Onesto, gran lavoratore. Non ti freghi. Non siamo a Roma. Qui fanno a botta ancora per decidere chi avrà’ l’onore di pagare il conto al ristorante, non l’inverso. Zio Silvio non mangia il pesce e va di rado al mare. Ma dal borgo grazioso dove abita c’e una vista pura e dolce proprio sul Adriatico che alleggerisce tutti gli altri fardelli della vita. Silvio e sempre pronto a dare il meglio di se e della sua cucina. Roba genuina, sapori tradizionali, di grande sostanza. Ci si può pensare se va a cena o pranzo da lui che mangiare e l’attività’ principale dei Abruzzesi il week-end. Ma non lo e. E digerire. Ma con piacere. E con lo sguardo sul mare, come un sottofondo sempre presente.

per la pasta al forno:
per 4 persona –
360 grammi di pasta tipo mezzo maniche, rigatoni, ecc.
sale, pepe
un ventina di pomodori (puliti e sbucciati) circa o 2 l. di un buon passato
brodo o liquido q.b.
2-4 salsicce
1 pezzo di manzo,  3-400 grammi circa (piccione, anche sotto spalla, ovvero di 2nda categoria – ma di qualita’ – non troppo magro)
1 pezzo d’agnello, 200 grammi circa
200 grammi di macinato
4 uova sode
1-2 mozzarelle
1 cipolla
vino rosso secco, 1 bic.
2 gambe di sedano
2 spicchi d’aglio
olio d’oliva
1 foglio d’alloro
per il pollo e pepperoni:
2-4 gambe di pollo
1-2 peperone
2 patate md.
vino bianco
sale e pep
olio d’oliva

2 spicchi d’aglio

Il ragu / stracotto come al solito, rosolare il macinato in olio fiamma alta, abbassa e poi il soffritto della cipolla, sedano e aglio, poi alta per sfumare col vino, poi il pomodoro, sale e pepe, poi le carni, erbe al gusto (alloro, timo, ecc., o niente) abbassa la fiamma al minimo e lascia cuocere per … piu va, meglio e, almeno 2 ore e mezzo, mescolando ogni tanto e aggiungi liquido se serve. Quando e bello morbido, via alla pasta in acqua salata e fare le uova sode. Mescoli le fette di uova e mozzarella con la pasta e sugo quanto basta, parmigiano sopra e vai in un forno caldo, 180 circa, per 10-15 minuti, casomai metti la griglia alla fine se piace. A tavola e magne’ con un buon montepulciano d’abbruzzo. E non si preoccupi – domani le carni saranno buonissimi a cena.
Il pollo
…olio e sale e  pepe sulla carne e pezzettoni di patate in una teglia – e va nel forno caldo. Sfumare dopo una decina di minuti. Dopo 10 ancora aggiungi l’aglio, rosmarino e pezzettoni di peperone. Dopo 10 minuti controlli e bagni il tutti. E dopo un’altra decina di minuti controlli se e pronto. Come da Silvio, troverai sempre qualcuno che si auto-invita cena… fa un certo profumo che sa di… casa.

Weekend food…a recommended Italian food blog: Nonna Box

Nonna Box

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Weekend Recipe: Ciabotta (Abruzzesan Bell Pepper Ratatouille…)

Ciambotta, or …

Ciabotta. It’s one of the best things ever invented, I think, by our species. It differs, the dish, from place to place around the mediterranean but the deal is the same: fresh herbs and stewed vegetables, salt, garlic and olive oil, local bread, and that’s it. Ratatouille, ciambotta, ciabotta, caponata, pepperonata, it’s all good. But ciabotta… just blows you away, overwhelming your tastebuds with goodness, sunshine, pine trees, sand, the sea, summer afternoons in a cool kitchen after a morning at the beach or working outside.
   It’s pepper based, bell pepper, and you can make it as you like it adding or removing according to taste and according to what you’ll be eating it with. (You could give me the bowl and a bib and I could, in theory, slide my head in and eat the whole thing, leaving the container clean, even shiny, when I finally take myself out, smack my lips and reach for a glass of wine.) Lately I make it two ways depending, sweeter for white polenta or richer for crusty bread.
And it’s really simple. Take 2 bell peppers, same or different colors doesn’t actually matter, peel them one way or another – I’ve discovered that tomato peelers, for how much they don’t actually work on tomatoes, work wonderfully with peppers, or charring the skin or sweating the peppers, take out the seeds and insides and slice them into strips, you decide the width, quarter inch or so and no more than an inch and half in length. 1 sweet onion (or yellow, or white….), diced or cut into thick wedges, 1 (or 2) normal sized clove of red garlic – avoid the chinese crappy imports – good e.v. olive oil (a lot, maybe 3 tablespoons)  – sea salt, one hot pepper (or not) not jalapeno but pepperoncino or Thai, a dash of brown sugar or something sweet to balance to flavor as necessary, honey, etc., , a pinch of pure – pure, not alka selzer, no plop-plopping fizz-fizzing – bicarbonate of soda, a lot of fresh sweet basil – not the large-leafed african stuff. You want light green and smallish leaves. Grow some in your garden or in a pot if you can or smell the stuff you buy: many kinds of basil but for this you want one that has a lovely sweet scent, no metallic bitterness to it.
    And tomatoes, 3 kinds if it’s summer: ‘regular’ vine ripened but smell them, to, before buying: they should make you taste to soil, and they should be supple but firm, not baseballs. Any variety will do really, round, Picadilly…. They’re for the bulk, an evenness of flavor. 6 of those at least if each fits in the palm of your hand, depends on how tomatoey you like the ciabotta. Then another kind of tomato for roundness, either 3-4 pear tomatoes or 1 beefsteak. Both of those kinds have to be pealed and seeded. Then if you’re in the southern EU, real sicilian date tomatoes, cherry or some other fruity-flavored variety if elsewhere, maybe a dozen, which, if you don’t mind them, can keep their peels. If not, on those you’ll have to use the hot water – cold water combo to remove (boil a big pot of water, plunk in the tomatoes, immediately turn off the heat, wait for the skins to just begin to crack but as soon as they do, remove all of them into a big pot of ice water, then slide off the skins.) And finally… a secret ingredient: either a few drops of good maple syrup or honey. (Optional, of course. Some Abruzzesans would scoff… because they haven’t tried it.)
That’s it. First the oil, a good bit, say 2-3 table spoons, medium-high heat, pan or pot, then the pepper shreds until they soften, 4-6 minutes or so depending on their size, some salt, then the onion till it starts to become translucent, 2 minutes more or less, then the garlic minced – now adjust the temperature lower – you don’t want the garlic to burn – and when that, to, has softened, start adding the tomatoes sliced or crunched by hand into cubes-chunks, salt the bunch then add another bit, then the rest, tossing everything together. After the tomatoes have softened enough you can start mushing them with your wooden spoon or a bit later, stir it up, and once the whole is liquid enough add a dash of brown sugar and a pinch-pinch of the bicarbonate to remove acidity, stir it in, taste again and adjust for salt,sweetness and flavor, add what needs to be added, whatever fits, even a bit of milk can go in, or nothing, lower the heat and let it stew, covering partially if you want. The house will become intoxicatingly filled with scents of, well, Abruzzo. I add one small hot diced pepper, quite optional though. If the tomatoes and pepper pieces are still too large, use the spoon to break them down even more while it cooks. Stir once in awhile but it doesn’t take long, maybe 30 minutes or so, add the syrup or honey when it’s almost done and always taste for salt and flavor ’till it’s just right. When it’s red-juicy-glistening ready, turn off the heat and rain down basil leaves as your hands shreds them into the sauce, stir… and wait. It keeps getting better as the flavors and oils are released and blend, it’s better still the day after but as a ‘chic’ rustic entree serve it lukewarm with white polenta.
You won’t have leftovers because anything left over and put it the fridge will mysteriously disappear during the night, along with half, or all, the loaf of bread you didn’t use that day. Really.
to sum up:
2 bell peppers
1 sweet onion
1 red garlic clove
5-6 vine tomatoes
2-3 pear tomatoes
10-12 date tomatoes
3-4 table spoon of ev olive oil
a pinch of bicarbonate of soda
a pinch or two of sugar
1 hot pepper (thai or pepperoncino)
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
a handful of sweet basil leaves
…medium pot, medium-high heat, first the cleaned, skinned and sliced pepper strips until they soften, then the onion, lower heat, then the garlic, then the tomatoes, then the salt, sugar, bicarbonate and hot pepper, then let it go, stir, squish, taste, adjust for salt and sweetness, let it go, repeat, near the end add the honey or syrup, turn off the heat and shred in the basil, serve lukewarm with crusty bread or white polenta.
(story excerpt on ciabotta:)
Andy leaned his torso over and wrote on his notepad. < Ciabotta. Every time we make it and eat it, it has a different flavor. Only a little, but different. And at the same time it gives you, carries, every ciabotta you’ve ever tasted, even every ciab. you ever imagined tasting. So every mouthful changes us. A little. >
   Silvio nodded as he looked at the speckled marble pavement of the living room. “Ok. But for them it’s always the same, right? It never changes, so it can never change them. Is that what you’re saying?”
   Andy smiled. < We talk to the past all the time, even if we don’t know it. But the Trump kind don’t. They’re always here. They want it all, every fucking piece, nothing left for the past or anyone else.>
   Robert tore away another hunk of bread and reached across the blanket from the other end of the couch to dip it into the bowl. “They do that, there won’t be any future either.” He scooped a mound of glistening tomatoes and peppers and dropped the whole thing into his wide open mouth, paused and inhaled deeply before starting to chew, rolled his eyes back, smiled and lightly shook his head. After swallowing, a garbled “For them to,” came form his delighted tongue.
   < Like, they care? When you destroy the past by extending the present backwards, you take away the future, to. It tumbles apart like a pile of sand. Like Alzheimers. No memory, but you can’t see it.>
   Robert paused his munching. “That’s crazy.”
  < We live in a crazy time. would you get some more bread? >
 link to the Wiki entry on traditional ciambotta. (The original video link no longer exists.)
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