Sunday, May 30, 2010


Lavazza is the largest coffee producer in Italy. In the world market they are second only to Starbucks but differently from Starbucks, Lavazza only deals in coffee. Our class went to the Lavazza training center f their largest of six production plants in the world. Every day coffee arrives from all corners of the world where it is blended according to very secret formulas thought up by the lab for maximum flavors. The whole process is Top secret aside from the guided tours. But they don’t allow any photographs of the processing because of patented technologies that only Lavazza uses. The tour was interesting enough but I was happy that it would be the last factory we would visit. In Italy it seems that every factory uses the same methods of production and storage and if you have seen one you have seen them all. But, of course you can’t know this until you have seen at least a few of them. The Italians thought they do not like to work a lot they do take pride in the things they do produce. If you think about it, for as little as they do work they manage to get quite a bit done which I guess is something anyone could be proud of.

When we arrived we were offered espresso and cappucino by our trainer. As we had to wake early for the trip to Turin, we were all Happy for the free cup of joe. After coffee we headed into the training classroom where at length we were given the over view of the last hundred years of the evolution of the company. Lavazza was started by Giuseppe Lavazza who opened a small grocery store in the heart of Turin. He had been to Columbia and fell in love with coffee. He sold the coffee in it’s raw green form for his customer s to take home and roast for themselves the problem being that if one cannot properly roast coffee then they coffee burns and tastes like merda(the stronger word for poop). Thus Signore Lavazza acquired a coffee roasting hand operated machine and became the first person in Italy to sell Pre-roasted coffee to the masses. He knew what he was doing so word of his coffee soon spread. He closed the grocery store in--- in order to focus only on coffee. The rest is history.

Since that first store Lavazza has tried to stay on the cutting edge, Devoting many of it’s resources to research and development of technology for the processing and packaging of coffee inorder to obtain the perfect drop. It is because of this that they opened the training center to educate, distributors supplies and baristi throughout the world. For your edification; the perfect shot of espresso is made first by choosing the correct roast for yourself be it Arabica Bean, Which is softer, a bit sweeter and containing less caffeine or Robusto which as the name suggests is bitter with stronger flavor and much more caffeine. The most common is a mix of the two, one hundred percent robust is really not drunk because it would be too bitter for the average consumer. Once you have selected you beans you must then select you roast. A rule of thumb is the darker the roast the stronger the flavor, less caffeine and vice versa. From here you have to think about the grind. This is tricky, you want the grind to be like a fine sand not dust but not too coarse either. The water should be able to flow throught the coffee with out clogging the fine holes in the dispenser handle but the maximum surface are of coffee must be exposed to the water in the minimal amount of time Ideally this “percolation” time should be no more or less than seven seconds before coming out of the handle in a continuous small stream. Once the perfect grind is achieved then you must thing about the portion of coffee in the dispenser handle. The Ideal shot will come from 6.5-7grams slightly less than a tablespoon. The coffee is lightly packed into the handle is affixed to the machine. It there is too little coffee in the handle the water will flow too quickly and sputter out of the spout which will ruin “La Crema” or slight foam that rests atop the perfect espresso. If there is too much coffee the stream will dribble out and the coffee will burn inside the handle before a decent shot is produced. The water must be sub boiling, at a healthy simmer between 90 and 95 degrees Centigrade (193-203 F) The water is pushed through the spout with a pressure of nine bar. 7 second steep and 25-30 seconds to stream out. Serving size about 1.25 ounce. For a cappuccino the milk should always be frothed from the top then gently stirred to ensure that the bubbles are well emulsified with the warmed milk and poured directly into the center of the shot and filling a 200ml cup. This gives you the best cup of Joe and concludes my talking about Lavazza. I know that this will help me to make a better cup of coffee with my espresso machine I hope it does the same for you. Ciao For Now, Stay Tuned.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Test No. 4

The Last test left before the final. I was given the task of preparing the main dish the name of which is Bauletto pesce di Acqua dolce con gamberi. Literally, Trunk of freshwater fish with shrimp. I was happy to be making this dish because again when we made it in class this one turned out the best of the fish dishes we had done that day. I was pumped. I cleaned my fish, Tourneed the Accompanying vegetables (Potato, Carrot, and Zucchini), had pine nuts ready to toast and toss with capers for the base on the plate. The Bauletto itself is pretty simple you take a Fillet of trout cover with parsley and marjoram finely chopped lay half of a fillet of salmon on top, then take a freshly peeled shrimp sliced in half and set apart so that you can roll the fish into a log which you put on oiled parchment and cover with foil. Here comes the gamble, you can’t see the fish you must cook blind first heating in a sauté pan and finishing in the oven. Being from the Pacific Northwest I take my salmon cookery very seriously it is easy to overcook even under constant vigilance let alone blind cooking. The test was to commence at 11:30 but as per usual it did not start until 12:30 and there was again only three Judges. I was pissed, one of the chefs had expressed concern that I had now started the fish rolls but I said to her through the interpreter “Look, this is a quick cooking dish the only thing I have to worry about is the vegetables which were already on the stove, and the judges aren’t even here. I am about to start the rolling process now but am in no hurry.” I had even made my simple sauce an emulsion of Olive Oil, Lemon Zest and Juice, and Fresh Dill.

Still it doesn’t bode well when the chef thinks you should have done something by now and you haven’t so I quickly made my rolls and placed them in their foil packages the last time I would see them before service. As 12:30 rolled around I put my pan on the stove for the initial heating I had four packages though only three would fit into a pan so I grabbed another pan for the last package and started it on a slightly lower heat worried about overcooking the whole time. I set the hot pans to one side and went about the task of slowly toasting the pine nuts so to soften and make them aromatic without burning them. I added the Capers just to heat them through. I had washed them thoroughly to remove the extreme salty flavor they got from being packed in large grain salt. When my time came I had everything ready to go. Pine nuts and capers down on the plate, Vegetables cooked and places on the plate the roll of fish out of the oven where, since sitting on the stove top so long I was sure they had overcooked, opened the package to find a perfectly cooked log o fish, I sliced into two parts and displayed in as lovely a manner as I can make, The chef comes back to me and says my portions are too big I need to remove half of the roll from each plate. A small speed bump but one that almost made me forget about my sauce of lemon and dill. I dash across the kitchen sauce my fish forgetting the fish is hot and the sauce is cold I should have put the sauce on the plate not directly on the fish. A rookie mistake but I was a bit frazzled at that particular moment.

I take the plate to the table there are two chefs and the director. One of the chefs was one whom I had previously presented my Eggplant Parmesan to so I knew she was a two star chef. The pressure was on, I explained my cooking methods and the different components of the dish trying to down play my tour née because it is an old school technique and I hadn’t made them since culinary school so I was a little rusty on the exact practice of making them. But they looked nice. I was worried as the two star took her first bite. She pauses, she closes her eyes, “Bravo, Le pesce e tanto morbido, Bellisimo” Good job, and the fish is so soft, Beautiful. She went on to compliment the sauce how it was creamy and lemon sweet not too tart. This was great news. The director did not come to school the next day so I had no idea how I had done on the test, I needed a small victory for my own sanity. The following day we got our scores. 29.3/30 A+. Perhaps lighting all those candles in the Cinque Terre might have helped. But Ciao for now, stay tuned for Lavazza, Italy’s number one coffee producer. Better than StarBucks???

Cinque Terre

Well, as much as I hate to say it, Good Job Rick Steves. The Cinque Terre was about as beautiful a place as I have been in Italy. It was picturesque. The narrow streets and the pastel colored buildings and houses were absolutely gorgeous. We had to cut our visit down to a quick two day whirlwind tour. The Spanish class finished their course and we had a great party for them Ole and I turned in early but we apparently were lucky. From the look of the aftermath, Tables turned over, bottles everywhere, everything covered in a fine dust from the fire extinguisher that they ran up and down the halls with spraying everything and each other. I will miss my wild bunch of Spanish friends but I have been able to get their contact info so I can write to them. If only they could read English, but that’s why they invented Skype.
Back to Cinque Terre, after four hours on the train we arrived at the train station in Deiva Marina. This is kilometers from the Cinque Terre and where we would be camping for the night. Once again, the Italian way with photography gave us the false hope of a beautiful campground with a pool, restaurant, and market. The pool was there but, if they had Alligators in Italy, I would expect one to be hiding in the murky algae filled water. The restaurant was closed and would not open until about 7:00PM as it was about noon we knew we would have to go elsewhere for a meal. The Actual camp site was a small patch of grass nestled between the little cabins that rented for four times as much. There were people from all over the world staying in the campground, Dutch, French, Germans, and many more. The lady in charge of the campground was extremely nice. She spoke a bit of English and would allow us to leave our bags near in the office after we checked out the next day and would deliver them to the train station when we returned from Cinque.
With nothing to do in the town, because like most towns it shuts down from 12:30 to 3:00 every day we decided to catch the train to Monterosso. The Largest and northern most of the five cities. Our first look at the Cinque Terre did not disappoint. From the moment we exited the train station we walked out on to a beautiful coast with sandy beach and little shops and every other person toting a copy of Rick Steves’ Italy 2010. We would soon find out that there were two Rick Steves’ Tours in town for the weekend and the Lemon Festival which we were never able to find. We found a small Focacciaria and ordered some Focaccia Bread made up like a pizza and two cokes. Batteries recharged we set out to explore everything that Monterosso had to offer. There was a breathtaking church of St. John the Baptist. A church which has Black and White stripes on the walls to signify the two different sects of monks in the town. The white are charged with protection of the living and the Black who care for the dead. The two sects worked together to build the church and protect the souls of the Monterosseans. Overlooking the town in a monastery of the cappucin monks. We went into this holy place and were transported into a movie. The Church was brilliantly lit up though the sky outside had grown dark with rainclouds being the altar the monks were practicing their chanting. It was a reverent experience to say the least. Close to the Monastery there was a cemetery that was beautifully adorned to honor the dead. Around the front side of the hill there was a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and looking down the coast it was possible to see all five of the little villages hugging the coastline. As dinner time approached we picked a restaurant out of the Book (when I refer to Rick Steves Italy I will address it simply as “The Book” to save some time.)

It was called L’Altre Mare and specialized in the seafood of the area. We ordered an appetizer of steamed mussels. First of all the bowl was freaking huge, easily over a hundred muscles which we greedily ate in a matter of minutes. But most interestingly is that they were amazing without butter and white wine they were steamed in their own liquor and were as fresh as can be gotten these days. For the next course Olesia ordered handmade Trofie pasta alla Genovese pasta with pesto to the non-Italian, Genova used to rule over the Cinque Terre and the rest of Liguria before the unification of Italy in the 1800’s. It was simple and delicious and tasted of fresh Basil, nothing else needed. For me, my inner-American yearned for a steak and I found one that I was familiar with, Bistec di Manzo con Pepe Verde. A juicy Filet of beef tenderloin smothered in a sauce of Ricotta, garlic and green pepper corns. I ordered the steak Al Sangue, Italian for bloody and as not displeased when I cut into the steak and saw a perfectly cooker blue steak. The sauce on top started out a brilliant white and when the steak was gone had taken on a pink hue. I was in heaven. To go with the dinner we had a half liter of the house table wine which was exquisite and matched the meal perfectly. After dinner we stopped at Enoteca Ciak (Chee-awk) where we purchased a bottle of the locally made Limoncino the local version of Lemoncello that some are familiar with. The recipe is; 1L of water, 1Kg. of Sugar, 16 Lemons zested and juiced, and 1L of High proof alcohol AKA moonshine. The whole lot is mixed together and set in a cold place to infuse then strained and bottled. When I get back to the states I will definitely be trying this one out and maybe before. We stopped and Ate Gelato in a little café deserted probably because it was not mentioned in the Book. The locals were bitching about the beginning of tourist season; I’m starting to understand a lot of Italian, but were at least happy that the rain which had been so constant over the winter and spring that most of the trails between the towns had been washed out and would have to be rebuilt was beginning to let up. A cost no one really wanted to bear but would because they didn’t want to have to take the trains with the damn tourists. After Gelato we headed back to the train station and for the campground. A day well spent, we had a nightcap of limoncino and sprite watched Sherlock Holmes in our tent and went to sleep preparing for the next day...

We woke up to find that it had rained over the night but the sky was now clear and beautiful. We would have a long day ahead of us because as it was Sunday I had School and a test on Monday and we still had four villages to visit before we could leave. The first stop was Rio Maggiore; Big River in the ligurian dialect though today the river has been covered over by the Main road in town was absolutely beautiful and is the southernmost town in the Cinque Terre. We walked down to the coast and had a cappuccino and espresso in a quaint little café by the water. The view was amazing and the coffee wasn’t bad either. Olesia had charged me with the Book and leading the tour of the day. We hiked around the town seeing another church and an amazing cemetery before arriving at the trailhead of the Via Dell’Amore. The road of love was built between Riomaggiore and Manarola the next town over in an effort to expand the gene pool which from the number of last names on the tombstones in the cemetery was getting pretty shallow. The nice walk is about two kilometers and is studded with locks purchased from the local hardware store and left as a sign of commitment between two lovers, there is also graffiti with names of couples from all parts of Italy and the world they have even gone as far as to carve initials and names into the cactus like plants that appear on the trail. The whole thing walks right on the coast offering amazing views and a pleasant walk to the next town.

Manarola, Big Wheel in the local dialect is a small town second only to Corniglia. What is interesting about this place is that like Riomaggiore the river that once flowed through the town has been converted to the main road but the river can still be seen if you look over the edge of the road and heard as you walk along it. Interesting to say the least. Here there is another church just as beautiful as the others and has one of the only frescoes done by a local artist apparently the locals are not known for their artistic abilities. But this fresco was gorgeous it was of Jesus as they took him down from the cross. Truly Awe inspiring. We took a trail near the church that went up and through the vineyards of Manarola everything was just starting to bloom and with a constant view of the sea it really felt like no other place on earth. The trail wrapped around and put us back into the center of town where we caught the train. Unfortunately our adventure was taking a bit longer than expected so we chose to skip over Corniglia and head right into Vernazza. From what we read Corniglia is the smallest town and has very little to do except it offers some very pretty views because it is set on the top of a hill. We’ll save it for next time.

Vernazza, Our last stop and another beautiful town with the oldest church in the area dedicated to Santa Margherita. The breakwater was a great place to lie out and soak up some sun unless the wind picks up and the waves start coming in. Then it gets a little dicey. We saw one group of tourists sunning themselves in the rocks when a rogue wave crashed on the barrier and soaked literally half of them the other half remained dry and laughing at their soaked companions what a difference a few feet can make. We were informed by the Book that in 2007 an American woman was swept out to sea by one of these waves and drowned a sad note for this beautiful town so we kept our distance. We stopped and had gelato at Gelateria Dell’Amore formerly named Gelateria Stalin because the founder had that unfortunate last name but the new owners still have the original sign as a joke about their father because just like most places in the town they are family run. The gelato is fresh made every day and comes in a variety of flavors Olesia had chocolate and cherry and I had Vanilla in Limoncino, a limoncino float of sorts. We hopped the train back to Deiva Marina and as promised the campground owners brought our bags to us at the train station and we headed for home. And of course being Sunday we had to pay the 30 euro to Nico for a cab ride to Cascina. I headed right to bed for the next morning’s test having had a full but restful weekend a much needed and welcome retreat. So once again Ciao for now, Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tests 2 & 3

Last week we had two exams one on Wednesday and one on Friday. They were rather uneventful and I have been beating myself up over them a bit because I passed by a good margin but by no means was I satisfied with the scores I received. The second test I was in charge of the Starter or antipasti. The dish I was to prepare was Parmigiana di Melanzan. Eggplant Parmesan to the English speakers. This is not the heavily breaded chicken substitute that we are familiar with in the states. It has all the same components but has a different and more elegant look to it. The third test I would prepare the Secondo Piato, akin to the Main Course that we are familiar with. My dish was Petto di Farona con Salsa di Pepe Verde, Guinea Fowl Breast with Green Peppercorn Sauce. This was a dish I had hoped I would get the sauce I have previously raved about in the entry “First we visited the farm and then we ate the critters” and finally I would have a chance to show what I had learned. But, first, more on the Second Test.

The Eggplant Parmesan, I apologize that there is no photo. I was in a bit of a hurry, I will explain. The test was set for as I was told 12:30PM we arrived at 8:30AM, as I started to put my Mise en Place together I found that the kitchen was out of a crucial Ingredient…The frickin’ eggplant. I was assured that the eggplant would arrive by 9:30AM. I thought “no problem, I have until 12:30 to prepare my dish I will be fine”, forgetting the fact that eggplant is full of water and in order to fry it properly the water must be removed by salting the thin slices of eggplant for over an hour. So as soon as I received the eggplant promptly at 9:45 I selected the best one of the lot, I pulled the case before anyone even had a chance to put it into the walk-in from the delivery truck. I cut the eggplant removed the skin in a striped pattern leaving some of the skin for color contrast, cut them into 1/8in. slices, salted both sides and set them aside to sweat hopefully more than myself. At 10:00 I was ready to start on my sauce. This was a pretty simple tomato sauce for which I chose three types tomato; Roma(cause the taste great but they only had two in house) Beefsteak(because I needed to extend the sauce) and cherry(to add some sweetness to counter the slight bitterness from the beefsteak). I finely chopped my onion and sweated it in a bit of olive oil being careful not to add too much oil so that the sauce would not bleed but remain whole and delicious. I had peeled and finely diced the tomato so it would cook down a bit quicker and release its secrets faster. I added the tomatoes and, over a very low heat, began the process of making an exquisite sauce. As the sauce did it’s job I checked on the eggplant, it was beginning to sweat but it still had a ways to go.

11:00 a pan of extra virgin olive oil sits on the stove top coming up to temperature I washed the salt off of the eggplant and pressed them dry between sheets of paper towel before dredging them in flour and dropping them into the hot oil. Instead of the normal stack of eggplant I had decide that I would make a small package out of the parmigiana, a technique I had been shown in class where the eggplant encases the sauce and cheese it is baked in a timbale cup and makes a, what I thought, great antipasto nice and light start to a five course meal. I had portioned the eggplant (the circles cut in half), the sauce was moments from being ready, the cheese, Mozzarella di Buffala(the real McCoy), was cut into small quick melting cubes. I went to look for the timbale cups we had used in class when the Chef said to me(I’ll paraphrase to make-up for the broken English) ‘This is a good presentation but it would be too small to serve as an Antipasto, this would be more appropriate for an Apperitve’. It was 11:30 by this point, too late to start another batch of eggplant since I only had an hour left and it would take that long just to sweat the eggplant. My portion size was off and time was running thin. Then came the Bad News.

Our guests had arrived in tow were two, 2 Star Michelin Chefs that would be judging our plates. The good news was that there would only be three judges instead of four which is the norm. I put the slices of Eggplant into 3 larger forms certain that if I stayed with the original dish I would be all right but I had to re-conseptualize my plating, never my long suit I was really sweating. As 11:50 rolled around they were calling for the test to begin and I still had a good ten minutes in the oven before I would be ready to go. So they sent out the person who was supposed to go after me at 12:00. I scrambled to find a plate three matching plates that would accentuate my dish in a rash decision I settled on three large Black Square Plates (A word on black plates, they were designed by the devil himself to punish inexperienced young chefs because when any light hits them the show every, EVERY; smudge, fingerprint, attempt at wiping an errant drop of oil, that there ever was on the plate, in its existence.) At 12:30 I served my dish to the panel, the first words out of the director’s mouth were this is that plate that was supposed to go first. From this point I was pretty much only seeing red, thanks for throwin’ me under a goddam bus. I seem to remember trying to defend my choices on Plate choice and plating in general, How instead of the traditional I had tried to make my dish eggplant parm with a secret because all of the sauce and cheese and Ham, I had used a piece of prosciutto cotto to keep the sauce and cheese in place during the baking process, was on the inside and the whole thing was topped with a trick from my Garde experience, A small rose made from the skin of a cherry tomato. All said and done Final Score 24.6/30, B -.

The next test was on the following Friday, I was quite excited about making my dish. The Fat Angel Franco Giacomino had shown me this recipe and I was chomping at the bit to make it for a test from the moment I learned it. This test would take place in the afternoon and would finish our day and week which would end in a party for the departing Japanese. The test was to start at 6:30PM but in the style of ICIF we found out at 5:30 that the test would not start until 7:30 I was unhappy because my balsamic reduction with fresh green peppercorn would have an extra hour to reduce and I was leery from the last test about when exactly to start my Guinea Fowl. For my side dish I chose to search the books given to me by the school for a suitable side dish to accompany this traditional dish from the region of Emilia Romagna, but this was to no avail. Being that it is the springtime and the height of asparagus season I chose to do a simple side of new potatoes skewered on a sprig of rosemary sautéed in butter perfumed with rosemary and garlic and a blanched asparagus lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

My fears became reality as at 7:00pm we were informed that we should start service and there would again be only three judges two of which worked at the school. Lame, I know. With all due respect to ICIF I have seen haystacks more organized than they seem to be. I don’t mean to go off on a rant because they do provide some good things, but they are perpetually disorganized fall through on simple promises like “We will provide you with a new paper chef’s hat which you are ‘required to wear for tests and guests’ weekly.” (I have 2 in 6 weeks had to ask for a third.) I just have to keep reciting the Mantra taught to me by my father “No matter how crap the quality of the learning environment you have to maximize the learning experience”. But enough of that, back to the test.

7:00pm they tell us to start serving. I have seared my Fowl Breast and put it in the oven to finish figuring on 30 minutes plus until my dish, the third course, goes out. The oven is at an absurdly low temperature in order to keep it from drying out. The potatoes which were par boiled were in a separate oven to gain a nice golden brown. A pot of water set on the stove, boiling, ready to blanch the asparagus. And can you guess what happens next, Jessie who had the first course; a classic Piemontese dish of a roasted pepper wrapped a type of tuna salad and a pan seared sea scallop atop a bed of sunflower sprouts dressed with a blood orange vinaigrette. The funny thing about pan seared sea scallops is that after you sear them you can’t really say “Oh, you aren’t ready yet, just let me bring these to you when they have turned into, as the Spanish say, MIERDO.” Fifteen minutes later the judges were ready, and it was time to shine.

As my dish rolled around, the extra fifteen minutes had not helped my dish at all but thanks to a few techniques I have picked up over the years did not dry out completely. There was not much I could say to the judges aside from a few expletives that were rolling around in my head. They asked why I had only lightly cooked the asparagus, the judge admitted that he was used to asparagus that had been “cooked to death” I enlightened him to the fact that in the Northwest and my own personal preference is to have a bit of crunch to the asparagus to signify freshness. It is the peak of the season, when asked why I had not sautéed the asparagus in butter my reply was “I like the taste of asparagus, The potatoes were sautéed in butter, there is butter in the sauce that is on the Guinea Fowl, There is butter barded under the skin of the guinea fowl (one of those tips to keep meat from drying out). I wanted a fresh slightly cooked vegetable to give the customer some semblance of a healthy meal.” The guest judge, a wine producer, asked me if I knew where I got the Guinea Fowl. “Yeah, The walk-in in the back of the Kitchen”. “But do you know if the bird was caught and butchered locally?”. Here comes the sweet revenge that eased the pain of the bus treads inflicted two days before, “I trust that ICIF would only provide ingredients of the highest quality, the freshest and most local products available” The director’s eyes went as wide as saucers and I waited for her to choke on my over-cooked Guinea Fowl. One of the other chefs came to her rescue saying that, in fact the Fowl was raised and butchered on a farm near the school. I felt I had stuck to my guns, though in a restaurant setting I would never have served the plate as it was but I had no choice in the matter. I know if given another opportunity I would blow this dish out of the water. All in All 24.3 Another frickin’ B-, But I like to attribute this one to a bit of both my own problems and their tardiness. I think If things went as they were supposed to, were planned to, It would have at least been a B+ if not A-. But such is life. Ciao For now, Stay Tuned.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


On the first weekend of May Olesia and I made our way to Alassio. A small quaint town on the Ligurian coast almost in the middle between Genova and San Remo. It was absolutely gorgeous. We were going to be camping so most of the week while I was in school Olesia was looking on the computer to find a suitable campsite. We settled on “Monte e Mare” A camping resort that is stacked on the coast up the side the hills that line the coast and had access to a beach. Half of the beach was public and looked like a beach one finds in the Pacific Northwest, rocky with a little sand but mostly the sand was under the large rocks and was more fine pebbles than sand. The other side of the beach was private, meaning you had to pay to use it which is common for the area. But the price you pay allows for a truly fine sandy beach. It is also the side of a restaurant and bar called BABA Beach. The bar was extremely expensive; 8 euro for a cocktail, 5 euro for an 8.5 oz bottle of beer and the food which was simple went for a minimum of 10 euro per dish unless you wanted a Panini that was 8 euro. And if you used the private beach you had to get something from the restaurant, no packing in your own food or drink.
Across the water from the beach was Isola Gallinara or Bird Island as the foreigners take to calling it because of the Wild hens which have roamed the island since ancient times. It was once home to Monks and Religious personages like St. Martin of Tours. A Benedictine Monastery was built on the top of the Island and became the governing power of the western Riviera to Provence and Catalonia though all that is left of this once powerful monastery is the watchtower that sits at the highest point on the island. The Island is privately owned and closed to the public so we had to suffice with our view of the island from our campsite. But I hear that the island is for sale though a protected nature preserve.
A word on Camping in Italy. It is nothing at all like camping in the states, aside from the fact that you can set up a tent in a designated area. The campground came equipped with a small store two restaurants and three disco techs within 100 meters of the gated entry way. There were bungalows to rent for the many families that were staying there these all came with barbeques, a living room area and satellite TV. There were also Buildings that had all of the comforts of a hotel called the Riviera Suits. By no means roughing it unless you were in a tent because the tent areas were covered with rock like a large grain Gravel if packing light I urge you to remember your camping pads because the bare ground is very unforgiving. So, all in all, we were unprepared for this type of camping but still made the most of it.
We got there on a Saturday and spent most of that day traveling. From Costigliole you have to first take the bus into Asti, but on this particular day it was a national holiday so we had to call the cab driver Nico. We piled into his small cab with four of the Japanese students who were going to Milan for the weekend, which was OK because we were able to split the 30 euro cab fare. From Asti we hopped a “Regionale” Train to Genova. From Genova we got on an “Intercita” train to Alassio. The whole trip took about four hours and luckily the intercita train was late so we were actually able to catch our train otherwise we would have had two more hours added to our trek. As it was when we reached Alassio we had missed the bus to our campsite and had arrived right when it was time for the businesses and public services to take their 2 hour lunch break. So we walked around Alassio and looked at the beaches and closed shops. We walked until we reached the end of the beach and then headed toward the main road where we could catch a bus to our campsite. The bus came about a half an hour later and the bus driver was none too friendly when I tried to speak my Italian to him but we paid our 2.50 euro each for the fare which took us a whopping 2 kilometers to our Campsite. We set up camp and headed for the beach, the public not the private and waded in the water but it was pretty frickin’ chilly but still better than the Pacific at this time of year. After that we headed to the Private beach for a drink, There was only one person who spoke English and he was probably a cabana boy because he knew little about pricing or even what they had to offer. This is how I found out the tiny beers were 5 euro a piece so I only had one and Olesia settled on her 3 euro Fanta Di Arancia(orange Fanta), The weather was starting to turn a bit nasty so we left the beach and headed back to the tent. We went out for dinner at the restaurant in the campground. Olesia and I shared a plate of Brasaola a Salumi made from beef but is very good with a bit of olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. For the Main Course, Olesia had a Ravioli filled with meat in a Bolognese sauce and I had Bistec alla Milanese which if you ever order this you should know you will bet chicken instead of steak, a mistake I will not make again. After dinner we went back to our tent to watch a movie on the Itouch and go to sleep. The nightclub on the Beach had other plans though. They started to play top 40 Music and didn’t stop until the birds were chirping to welcome the rising sun.
Sunday, the camp had mostly cleared out aside from some of the blue hairs that were staying in the aforementioned Riviera suites. We decided to go into Alassio again this time we would walk the other way down the beach. We stopped and got some Gelato at a small stand and walked along the boardwalk then took the main street back to the center of town. We stopped by the tourist office to find out about the ancient roman road we had heard would lead us back to our campsite. We found the small bus that took us up the hill to an old church that stands at the gate of the road. It was a magnificent vista from which you could see the whole city and coastline. Walking along the road we were surrounded by the smell of the flowers that had recently started to bloom. The sun made and unexpected but welcome appearance and warmed us on our walk we passed the ruins of a monastery that dated back to the 3rd or 4th century. When we reached the campground finally we were presented with a locked gate. I looked for a place to hop the fence which was difficult to find because the whole thing was topped with barbed wire. I found a small place that was scalable and made my way over with a little trouble. Olesia decided to wait until I could return with a key. I ran down the hill only to find that everything had closed except the restaurant which would be closing momentarily. They told me to call the custodian of the camp from the call box on the front gate. I did so and after a long conversation of few words he was able to bring me a key to the upper gate. When I got back up the hill to the gate I found Ole reading wondering what had taken me so long. So we went back to the campsite had a snack of some prosciutto and robiola on the bread we had baked the previous Friday in class. We watched another movie and went to bed early.

Monday morning we headed into Albenga the next town up the coast toward Genova. We hoofed it because it was only about a kilometer from our campsite. The town was beautiful, we walked around and found a place to restock on meat and cheese made sandwiches and ate them in a piazza near the train station. We bought tickets all the way through to Asti because we would again have to make a tight connection made tighter because our train from Albenga was 25 minutes late, such is the gamble one takes with the Intercita. When we arrived back in Costigliole I had to hightail it back up to the school to take care of the Mise en Place for the next day’s lesson. I was glad that I had not missed any class because the Girls had decided to make a long weekend in Barcelona so they had not planned anything for me to do all by myself. The School had even said that I did not have to return for MEP but I could do it the next morning instead of Italian Class. Not wanting to miss Italian I did the MEP by myself and headed back to Cascina to hear of the girls’ wild time in Barcelona. That was the weekend in Alassio Ciao for now, stay tuned.

Ole Has put pics from Alassio on the Facebook Check them out if you wanna see what we did.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Last Week in Short (by my standards atleast)

So the week in short. Monday, We had a test but I already wrote about that. We started the day out with everybody’s favorite: Microbiology, the wide world of Food Borne Illness. I tell you the Italian lady who was teaching the class knew what she was talking about but she wanted to make us feel as stupid as possible her questions were as broad as barn door. I am servesafe certified and like to think I know a thing or two about the science behind FBI’s. But every answer I gave was returned with a Yes but not always answer. After three mind-numbing hours we were done with the class and off to lunch then the test.

Tuesday, Italian lessons with Chef Simone follower by meat cookery for the rest of the morning We made Braised Rabbit, Simple peasant food from Liguria braised in red wine with tomato, Black Tajasche Olives, Olive oil, garlic and rosemary. It normally cooks for three to four hours but we only had it simmering for an hour and a half. WE cut the rabbit into small pieces which helped but with any game meat Time is your friend. The Next Dish was from Puglia in the south of Italy, It is traditionally made with Cavallo(horse) but we made ours with Pork. You Take thick slice of porklion and butterfly it so it is a flat sheet of porky goodness. You then fill it with parsley, garlic and Peccorino Cheese. Carefully roll it up and seal the ends. Sear the roll in smoking hot olive oil to preserve moisture, then you set it to the side, to the pan you add minced red onion, a few capers puree of roasted tomato and a touch of water or wine, cover it and let it cook through. Hit the plate with a bit of the sauce and Slice the roll so you get a pretty spiral and enjoy. The final Meaty dish we made Anata profumicata a Miele e Canella (Duck perfumed with honey and Cinnamon) In the interest of time we used Duck Breast only. You sear the duckbreast in extra virgin olive oil prefumed with sage rosemary and thymeremove most of the oil and pop it onto a hot oven remove when core temp reads 53 Degrees Celcius(if the health dept. comes do what we all do and lie about that core temp, the health dept. kills good cuisine). In a separate pan you heat a bit of butter, raw cane sugar and cinnamon. Caramelize a few slices of apple in the sugar and cinnamon. Remove and set aside the apples are just a garnish. To this caramelly pan you add a health tablespoon of Honey and the drippings from the roasted duck. You then toss the breast into this mix and make sure it gets good and covered with this sweet spicy sauce. Allow the breast to rest for a few minutes before slicing it into a few beautiful slices and plate up with the apples a drizzle of the sauce. After all of this delicious cooking we went to lunch which for obvious reasons I didn't touch.

The Afternoon was filled with three tasty Vegetarian dishes, by the way Vegetarians in Italy eat cheese and eggs, Vegans are SOL sorry guys. An Oldie but a goody, first up was Parmigiana Di Melanzana(Eggplant Parmesean). This one had a slightly different take from the breaded monstrosity we all know and love. We thinly (about 1/4 in.) the eggplant sprinkle with salt on both sides to extract the moisture within the fruit. While the Eggplant is sweating you prepare the sauce Minced onion, Tomatoes blanched and seeded, Whole clove of garlic Torn Basil. slowly saute the onion with the whole clove of garlic to perfume the oil. When the onions have sweated add the tomato and cook through, then add the basil and blend with a blender or pass through a sieve or food mill. With the sauce done Thoroughly wash the salt from the eggplant and press dry. Dredge in flour and deep fry the eggplant in Oilve oil until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Sauce plate, Place a slice of fried eggplant, a bit of sauce a slice of fresh Mozz, a bit pf grated parm and repeat a few times until you have the desired stack size, pop in a hot oven to melt the cheeses and make it look irresistable with it's melty cheese and just browned crust on the top and serve. The next was Gatto, not cat but a traditional street food of Campagna. Coat a timbale dish with buttter and white bread crumbs. Make Mashed potatoes with ground peccorino, small diced mozz, scamorza (alot like smoked gouda) Small dice of Prociutto cotto, beaten eggs and a very basic Bechamel (Butter, flour and cream 1:1:10) salt and pepper to taste adn a pinch of nutmeg, Mix up the mash place in the mold pop into a 180 deg. Celcius oven and bake off until golden brown. Turn out of the mold and serve. These were the stars of the lesson and because I said I would try to keep this short I shall move on to Wednesday.

Riso Gallo was the name of the morning, for those of you not in the know Riso Gallo is the largest rice producer in Italy and accounts for 23 percent of the world market. It has been family owned since about the time that Italy was unified. They produce about as many types of rice as they do pasta and for the most part they don't use rice for anything except Rissoto, and a few soups but they still supply the world with their rices. The Big three are; Arborio which we all know and love as the americans primary rice for the production of Rissoto, A grave mistake I am told, For the best rice for Rissoto is Carnarole, This is the highest quality rice for risotto because of it's starch quantity. The other rice that round out the top three sellers is called Vialone Nanno because it is a smaller grain and holds a good consistency over time when hot held, making it very popular for restaurants. Riso Gallo is available in the states but it goes under the moniker of Riso Bello because of a nasty lawsuit with the Gallo Family of Californian wine fame. The rest of the time at Riso Gallo was spent touring the factory and seeing the various stages of production, quality control, and packaging. The Highlight of this tour was the Meal that we ate afterward. We went to a small family style restaurant and sat downto a traditional Italian Family Feast which lasted about Nine Courses 3 Antipasti, Various deloicatessen and salumi, and bagna cauda a puree of anchovy garlic and olive oil served over roasted peppers. Next was two different types of Risotto, of course made from Riso Gallo Carnarole, followed by two more meat courses and a dessert course. We left fat and happy and everyone slept on the bu on the way home. We Finished the day with an Italian lesson where we learned about asking questions in Italian a good thing to know on this oddessy of mine.

Thursday, We started in the the morning with yet another Italian Lesson, I think think they are doing some good I am starting to understand what my teachers are saying and want me to do even though I don't feel quit comfortable trying to speak anymore than that of Tarzan but I am told that my pronunciation is very good. All those years of speaking in accents finally payoff and I can play the part of a pretty dull italian. After Italian we had another Installment of Micro Biology there was much rejoicing at the fact that this would be out last installment. Again the health dept of italy is strict as hell here but there are DOP laws on the side of the restaurateur and if you use quality products and have a proper HACCP plan they don't pose much of a threat. The afternoon was spent with Master Chef whose specialty was Salumi especially Pork. Gianni Necco was the fellas name from the village of Nizza della Paglia Monferrato. At 70 years old he has been in the business of Salumi for 56 years starting when he was 14 when working with his Uncle, a master, he lost half of his middle finger on his right hand to the machinery of his trade(not to worry about the sausage it was the belt drive that runs the grinder not the grinder itself). His Uncle taught him to love and make salumi from the tip to the tail of the pig. was butchered properlyHe can tell the age and weight of a pig by looking at the Lardo produced by the pig, and whether it. He can recite off the top of his head a recipe for each of the 265 types of Salumi produced in Italy from Pork. He loves sausage and cooking and has studied in minute detail all of the cuisines of Italy that marries the two. But, the reason he still lives here, he loves piemontese cuisine but especially the pig. As he told os the pig is the only animal in hte world that one can use every part of, for example the hairs of the back can be used for either a tooth brush it can clean teeth perfectly without the addition of toothpaste, or paintbrushes because it carries and distributes the paint evenly. Almost every part is edible down to the feet as our friends in the south have demonstrated in the states. Needless to say the man was absolutely fascinating and truely had a passion for his craft. It was an honor and a pleasure to hear him speak .

Friday, We had our Italian lesson which involved talking about professions and the titles that are given to those who work in each profession. Interesting to know that a Gelatario is someone who makes gelato in a gelateria. After this invigorating lession which did help to expand my vocabulary we went into the Pasticceria (the Bake shop) for a full day on bread. Over the course of the day we made sixty or so loaves of bread about a hundred rolls from various basic doughs. They were even kind enough to let Olesia sit in on the class because our group has been whittled down to five and would be whittled further because the girls were going to Barcelona that afternoon. A welcome change of pace from her daily routine, the loaned her a jacket and she was Luigi Caputo for the day. The first bread was the Pansemola, a bread made with a special blend of 65%bread and 35%semola flours, yeast, salt, water and a variety of ingredients including sauteed onion, pancetta, and peccorino cheese, The proportions of the ingredients were 1 kg., 30g., 20g, 650ml, respectively. The extra ingredients were added sparingly so we did not have to worry about recalibrating the recipes. The bread was great soft and flavorful it can be made in to bread rolls by simply weighing out 30 gram balls and baking them off but it makes great loaves at 300 grams. The next bread used a flour called panlatte and, you guessed it, it is a mix of bread flour and Dry milk using a Kilo of this combined with 40g yeast, and 470ml of water a bit more flour and honey and slivered almonds we had quite possibly the best breakfast bread you can imagine. the bread was great we measured it out into loaves and would be eating it for breakfast for the next week. After we returned for our afternoon class we were joined by a surprize guest Dominic from the short course. He had returned from his nightmare of an externship for reassignment in Sienna. But that's is another story. So for the rest of the afternoon we explored the various uses for focaccia dough. 2kg Bread Flour, 30g butter, 45g yeast, 25g Malt, and 1L of water, Another versitile dough which is indespensible for the Restaurant chefs Arsenal. I takes well to flavor and can be formed into make shapes and sizes. At the end of the day we horded a few loaves of bread to serve for a few meals for our weekend in Alassio. But this is a longer story for another ciao for now, stay tuned.

Sorry about the tardiness of this entry but I'll say it once and I'll say it again the internet sucks in Italy