Friday, February 23, 2018

Mombaruzzo amaretti

Many of you might be familiar with the Amaretto liqueur and the amaretti cookies, but have you ever tried our Piedmont amaretti di Mombaruzzo?

First of all Mombaruzzo is a picturesque hamlet in the Asti area and this automatically makes us think of green hills, vineyards, renaissance castles, narrow and steep lanes, brick towers and a cute little piazza. Most def it is worth a visit, especially if you bake or are a cookie lover 😉

Legend has it that at the end of the 1700, Francesco Moriondo, bursar of the royal park of La Mandria (near the Royal Palace of Venaria) fell in love with one of the royal pastry chefs, a Sicilian lady. Her specialty was a cake made with almonds.
Once they left the court duties they moved back to Mombaruzzo where Francesco was born and opened a small pastry shop where they started selling a new kind of cookie: soft and elegantly bitter thanks to the almonds.

Amaretto in Italian means a bit bitter because this is how the first fans of these cookies defined them: good and a slightly bitter.

Francesco realized this cookie by adding a handful of those almonds you find inside the apricot and peach pits. This extra touch is exactly what gives these cookies their traditional bitter accent.
Quickly these cookies conquered everybody and lots of awards; many bakers started making them imitating the original recipe, making them THE Mombaruzzo specialty.
Today they are a PAT or Traditional Agricultural Product whose recipe is protected geographically by the Italian government.

soft amaretti di Mombaruzzo

These cookies are perfect for a gluten free diet as they only contain sugar, almonds and egg whites. Thanks to their slightly bitter flavor, they pair with many things, especially with grappa! As per tradition the best ones you can buy are totally handmade and Pasticceria di Moriondo, the original Mombaruzzo amaretto pastry shop is still open and it also has a café 😋


As customary we are sharing a recipe so you can bake them while planning your trip over to Piedmont.
  • 200 gr - 1 1/3 Cup circa of blanched almonds
  • 20 gr - 1/8 Cup of  bitter almonds or the almonds inside the apricot/peaches pits
  • 2 egg whites
  • 240 gr - 2 rich Cups of powdered sugar
  • some granulated sugar to top the cookies
Oven 150C - 300F 

Toast all the almonds in the oven for just a few minutes and cool down. Finely chop the regular ones  in your mixer together with the sugar. Don't allow the blades to overheat. Separately, finely chop the bitter almonds and then get them together with the other sugary mix.
With a fork, whip the egg whites till they are foamy and add the chopped almonds and sugar. Mix till getting an even dough. 
Roll out tiny ball as large as walnuts and roll them in the granulated sugar.
Line your baking dish with parchment paper and lay the cookies down to be baked at 150C - 300F for about 20 minutes.
Cool down and serve with as many pairings as you can think of!

another post about these cookies here

.... now, pack your suitcase and fly over to Piedmont to compare with the original ones 😜

Thursday, February 15, 2018

the Romans in Turin

Once visitors make it over, virtually everybody falls in love with Turin, its elegant architecture and rational structure - a legacy of the Roman times. The ancient Roman military camp on whose grid the Turin's downtown developed together with the Palatine Towers are the local Roman souvenirs to remind everyone that Turin has a long history!

the Palatine Towers with the statue of Julius Caesar

Walking around is the best way to get to know Turin and its history, because you can still see and recognize the historical layers of the different ages, starting from the Roman times
In 58 BC, on their way up to France, the Ancient Romans stopped in our plain and set up their well organized military camp. 
As per Roman tradition, the tents were located in the lanes built following two main streets: the decumanus maximus that cut the camp east to west and the cardo maximo, that cut the camp north to south. All the lanes where built within a squared area - known in Italian as the Quadrilatero Romano or the Roman rectangle - that has survived through the centuries, giving Turin its "Manhattan-like pattern". Both cardo and decumano are still there: the decumano is the current Via Garibaldi while the cardo is Via San Tommaso.

Via Porta Palatina today

Following Via San Tommaso, you end up in Piazza Cesare Augusto where the Palatine Towers are still standing and, following Via Garibaldi, you end up in the current Piazza Castello. This is the square with two royal palaces: Palazzo Madama, where the queens lived, is right in the middle of the piazza. The medieval half of this castle still shows the "architectural recycling" of the two original towers of the Roman getaway matching with the Palatine ones, near the Porta Palazzo market.

The Palatine Towers are the best  preserved 1st century BC Roman gateways in in the world!
Just like the towers in Palazzo Madama (in the picture below) they have 16 sides, and share a wall with four doors: the two central doors were larger to allow the chariots passage, while the two smaller doors at the sides were for horse-riding and walking people.

the Medieval back of Palazzo Madama

Any first timer in Turin should devote a whole day to walk around downtown to learn their way through the main streets and piazzas. All visitors should actually devote a whole day to walk around Turin to go back to a café or try a new restaurant and feeling like catching up with an old friend. Turin after all welcomes you like your favorite aunt to her house 😺

Despite its long history and monuments, Turin is a city that keeps evolving, sometimes a bit reluctantly and slowly compared to others, but in steady progress; and it is the contrast between its inevitable change and rooted history that makes of Turin the unique Italian and European city it is 😍

Via Garibaldi: at the bottom you can see Palazzo Madama

Come, come soon, and like the ancient Romans, enjoy our vidaroyal 😎

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Gianduia = Turin

Everybody knows Gianduia as the Turin's chocolate, but what does this name mean and who is Gianduia?

As we are approaching the Mardi Gras celebrations that closes the Carnival season in Italy, we felt the need to put all the puzzle pieces together: chocolates, Brachetto wine, Mardi Gras and Commedia dell'Arte 😎

Back in the Middle Ages, before actors where professionals, there were groups of people who impersonated characters and stereotypes and acted in the Italian piazzas. As there was no script, they usually improvised and took advantage of the regional dialects to add color to their interpretations.
This is very shortly how each Italian town got to be symbolized by a theatrical character who summed up in him or her the ways of his or her city.

Certainly, back in the 1200 - 1700, politically correctness wasn't an issue and little by little shows were organized where all these 'characters' acted together amplifying their own local stereotypes. Naturally these plays were funny, they were comedies and because they reflected the core of the Italian culture - at a time when Italy was still divided into many tiny kingdoms, republics, states - this is what came to be called Commedia dell'Arte - the true Italian essence of the art of the comedy.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

bear coffee? Orso

Turin is definitely renown for its many royal coffee shops, all more or less centrally located and the total lack of international coffee shop chains. This translates into a city with only indie coffee shops... yet in terms of coffee blends and brewing methods, you will find virtually only Italian style coffees: espresso, cappuccino, latte, marocchino and bicerin, caffé ristretto and corretto or lungo.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

L = Pastiglie Leone

Just imagine if you could get candies instead of medicines, and if gummy candies had medicinal properties.... Well this is how Pastiglie Leone aka THE Turin's candies started and how they are keeping up with their philosophy. Starting by their name because pastiglie means pills 😁

Mark this candy brand down because once again it makes a great souvenir thanks to all the nice tins and colored boxes you can find virtually everywhere, not only here in Turin and in Piedmont, but all over Italy too.

Original 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games tin by Pastiglie Leone

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Rosolio or Vermouth's nonno

Ph. by Monica Bessone
It is no secret that the Savoy kings loved Rosolio so much they had made it the official royal liqueur up to 1786 when King Victor Amadeus III loved vermouth better and officially changed the royal production. 
Rosolio in all its variants is one of those products that have always unified Italy even before the unification in 1861. Despite the many versions of this distilled elixir through the boot, only Piedmont Rosolio was recognized by the Italian government as an official traditional local product.

This liqueur was born during the Renaissance and became more common once refined sugar became readily available.  It followed Catherine De' Medici to France while in Italy, it was made mainly in convents where the nuns knew how to extract the herb, flower and fruit essences to make liquors. Later, it was also made in private homes, where rose petals were macerated in a 50% alcohol and 50% sugar solution. Rosolio has always been a good base to make other liquors too.

The first Rosolio di Torino recipe was published in French in 1733. Around 1750s the Cinzano brothers start the first largest production of Rosolio and in the 19th century, Mr Carpano starts labelling his bitter rosolio Vermouth.

Its name seems to derive from the Latin 'ros solis' or sun dew and it literally means 'rose oil'; in fact, Rosolio has an intense yet delicate aroma, yet a stickiness similar to the oil one, making it ideal to close a rich meal such as the traditional Italian ones.

With the passing of the time, Rosolio became THE ladies' liqueur par excellence for its elegance, smoothness and moderate alcohol content (between 25% and 35%) and it was officially offered to all family gatherings up to being considered a good luck harbinger when drunk by newlyweds.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

OUR lentil loaf

Happy 2018 dear all, our first post of the year was requested by our friend Jan Egan aka The Watchful Cook.
On NYE we made a delicious lentil loaf and after researching for the best recipe, we decided to give it a Piedmont twist by including some Jerusalem artichokes.

Regular Italian artichokes have always been an all time favorite of ours but it is only since a few months we started cooking and eating Jerusalem artichokes too.
Usually Jerusalem artichokes are part of bagna caoda THE Piedmont and family/friends dish, however, they can be cooked in virtually any way and can be eaten raw too.

Apparently their English name derives from the anglicized version of the Italian girasole or sunflower because the Italian immigrants in the US found the plant very similar to the sunflower one.
As for the artichoke part, it is due to their similarity with the regular artichokes, but they really have nothing else in common because "J art" are a tuber like potatoes.

In Italian we call them topinanbour and they come in 2 species, regular and white - the better and more delicate quality.
In the winter particularly, they are a super food as they are packed with potassium, iron, fibers and niacin, consequently they help you purifying your system, are  great option to bananas, give you strength and energy. Moreover, they reduce your cholesterol and regulate your blood pressure. 👌

As their flavor is mild and they can be cooked and roasted, slowly but steadily we are including them in many of our cold weather/comfort food dishes paired with rice, legumes and other vegetables to keep them in good company 😉