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Monthly Archives: April 2016

One morning in the garden

There’s this no-profit organisation in my hometown, that in spring and in winter organizes some city tours, on the footsteps of the noble families that ruled our city over the centuries. We had been with them a few times already, always a pleasure and very interesting. At the beginning of april, the meeting point was at our local botanical garden, being this spring under the name of the Borbone.

The origins of the Parma Botanical Garden can be traced back to the year 1600.
Even before this time Parma had the “Giardino dei Semplici” (Garden of Simple) founded by Ranuccio I Farnese which formed part of Medical Department and used to grow healing herbs (hence the name simple indicating medicines from the plant kingdom).

The present Botanical Garden was created in the 1768 by the abbot Giambattista Guatteri, professor of botany, under the auspices of Ferdinando I of Borbone and was located in the city centre, covering the same area of 11000 square metres when established as it does today. The central part, in front of the greenhouses, preserves the Italian garden style of the eighteenth century project, even if the shape has been partially modified with the march of time. The wooded part, created between the XVIII and the XIX century, remains in the east of the Garden, whilst the western part has been rebuilt according to the British garden style.

Above, the “V” that stands for violet, the typical Parma flower, the most loved by Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, still today lovingly remembered (we are celebrating her bicentenary right now with lots of events).

In the last years a reorganization and an enrichment of the collections has been started, and the flowerbeds and the border have been fixed. Precious herbariua kept at the Garden include that of Giambattista Guatteri, Giorgio Jan and Giovanni Passerini which also has some working tools; an ancient herbarium of healing herbs which was the property of the botanic doctor G. B. Casapini (1722); the herbarium of the countess Albertina Sanvitale with her autograph hints (1828 – 1830) and the herbarium of Luigi Gardoni (1836 – 1878) composed of 274 boxes containing a diverse mix of local and exotic species.

Above, my daughter, the pro photographer….

The Botanical Garden’s main goal is to preserve biodiversity both “in situ” as well as “ex situ”. Other than the main institutional activities, the chief strands of activity are:

  • scientific research mainly related to environmental subjects;
  • teaching;
  • environmental education;
  • scientific cooperation with local bodies.

The garden contains aquatic plants including Acorus calamus, Butomus umbellatus, Caltha palustris, Cyperus papyrus, Eichhornia crassipes, Elodea canadensis, Iris pseudacorus, Lemna minor,Nymphaea alba, Pistia stratiotes, and Sagittaria sagittaefolia, as well as mature trees including ginkgo, magnolia, Pinus nigra subsp. laricio, and Ulmus campestris. Its glass houses contain a tropical section with Dracaena fragrans, Ficus elastica, F. benjamina, Monstera deliciosa, Tamarindus indica, Theobroma cacao, etc., as well as epiphytes, orchids, and tropical fruits; and a desert house containing a variety of cacti and succulents.

It was such a nice morning, the weather not so good, but our guide was so kind and so ready to answer all of our questions….absolutely a great experience.

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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Spring salad

Per 8 servings:

  • ½ lb potatoes, boiled
  • ½ lb lentils
  • ½ lb chickpeas
  • 1 spring cabbage
  • mustard
  • white wine vinegar
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • salt
  • ground pepper

Preparation: Thinly slice the cabbage. Wash and dry well. Place on a serving dish. Rinse the chickpeas and lentils of their soaking liquid. Drain beans well and place them on top of the cabbage. Peal and cube the boiled potatoes, then toss with the rest of the salad. Puree at high speed, 1 tbsp white wine, 1 tsp mustard, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup oil. Pour the emulsified sauce on the salad and finish with a pinch of freshly ground black pepper.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Millefoglie

Millefoglie is the Italian version of the French pastry Mille-feuille, which means “thousand leaves”. Millefoglie is a layered cake that can be filled with a number of delicious treats in several ways.

INGREDIENTS per 4 servings

  • 1 lb puff pastry
  • oz confectioners sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ stick vanilla
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 ½ oz sugar
  • oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 ½ oz whipping cream
  • oz confectioners sugar
  • 12 strawberries

GARNISH

  • 4 strawberries
  • confectioners sugar to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. Unfold 1 puff pastry sheet and gently roll it out into a 12 inch piece with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Place it into a large buttered baking sheet, and prick it all over with a fork. Trim any overhang of the pastry with a knife. Cut each sheet into rectangular pieces measuring 3 x 1.5 inches. Sprinkle them with sugar and then bake in a heated oven at 350° F until the pastry is puffed and golden (approx 15 minutes). Let it cool on the racks.

TO PREPARE THE CHANTILLY CREAM:

Boil the milk being careful to not burn it.
Whisk the egg yolk and sugar, add the flour and continue to mix. Pour in part of the hot milk in order to obtain a smooth cream. Add the vanilla stick, allowing it to aromatize the mixture and add the remaining milk very slowly. Cook over moderate heat and keep mixing until it is thickened. Let it cool quickly. Whip the cream and add it to the Chantilly Cream.

On the serving plate, spread part of the cooled pastry cream mixture over one puff pastry cake base.  Make a second layer, repeating the previous step.

Cover it with a third puff pastry cake. Decorate the top and the plate with cubed strawberries, and powdered sugar (or you can put strawberries on top of each layer too).

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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March – part two

A while ago, I found an old photo of me and one of my aunts, too early taken from us. I shared the photo on the WhatsApp group of the “cousins”, and to some it was new ….thus the idea of getting together one day to share family photos and stories. The occasion presented itself the saturday before Easter, and my cousin S invited us for lunch……Three were missing, one living in the US and two being abroad for a short vacation…We had really a great time, sharing memories….adjusting memories…. sharing a meal and so much love….just us, no children, no partners, just the inner circle of us….

God….I’m blessed!

Easter morning, a walk through the streets of Fontanellato, but the Street Food Festival didn’t met our expectations for a different Easter lunch…..

so instead we called a aunt who previously announced she would have been thrilled if we were going to lunch……..glad we did!

Full, we had to digest all that, so we rejoined daughter and bf, to explore the area around….A nice surprise was the old, deserted Church of San Carlo, dating back from early 1700, but very sadly almost completly ruined…..and in spite of our search, not too much was available to learn more about it….

but all the magic was there………..such a waste!

Then we drove to the near village of Roccabianca. The Rossi Castle was open and for free………

This imposing stronghold was built between 1450 and 1465 by Pier Maria Rossi as a gift for his beloved Bianca Pellegrini. Originally surrounded by a moat, it has a rectangular structure with two bastions and a high central tower and despite the damages of time, it still preserves its forceful appearance. On the ravelin, it displays the coat of arms of the Rangoni and Pallavicino families that took possession of the castle after the collapse of the Rossi family.

 

 

The interiors once boasted a cycle of frescoes depicting the Life of Griselda, inspired by the 100th novella of Boccaccio’s Decameron. Little remains today of it: the walls and vault of the room, together with the Pier Maria Rossi astrological cycle attributed to Nicolò da Varallo and his school have been detached and reassembled in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan. Thanks to long restoration works due to the last owner, cavalier Mario Scaltriti, the castle has been recently reopened to the public.

Tastings of typical products of the Road of Culatello and free tastings of local homemade liquors are also available by prebooking as well as (for children) the marvellous world of Fairy tales.

Easter Monday, up in the hills, we met with a couple of friends in another little village around a castle, Torrechiara.

It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve been there, the charm is still there…..and I guess it will ever be…

Last time I entered the little church at the foot of the castle, was for our friends’ wedding, 31 years ago….I didn’t remember it at all….

Back to our friends home/farm (he produces and sells olive trees and olive oil along with some fruits plants), just above the castle, where we had dinner together….

So April, bring it on….will you live up to March?

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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March – part one

Starting with this lunch date, march has been very good to me. The beginning of the month was marked by the appointment hubby and I had with this guy at his studio….

….and we went home with these….My mother was not thrilled at all, but I think I’m old enough to take some decisions on my own….lol…

Back home we were greeted by some very special muffins our daughter baked to celebrate the occasion, peas and ham….so very good!

We had a great evening/night out with some friends celebrating St. Patrick………no, we’re not irish, but we still have so amazing memories of out time spent in the Emerald Island….and who can say no to a Guiness? And there were also other kinds of food, for the ones (hubby) not so crazy about the irish stew….

They heavy head I had the next morning, was the proof we had such a great time!

In my hometown some complains that there’s not enough things to do….sometimes I agree with them, but if you keep your eyes (and ears) open, you can run into something interesting, now and then…This was the case when the FAI organized its open days once again this year.  Places usually closed, open to public just for a couple of day, with free guided tours….me and my daughter choose to visit Palazzo Sanvitale on a early sunday afternoon, after a very good brunch at home, american/english style…

After that we had enough energy for the visit….

The original palace was built in the first half of the sixteenth century by the Lalatta family, and it occupied the eastern half of today’s building. Passed to the families Prati and Cesi, the palace became property of the Sanvitale family in 1639 , when Count Alexander II arranged a marriage between his son Luigi and Lucrezia Cesi, daughter of Fortunato Cesi. The dowry agreements set that the building would became the property of the Sanvitale in exchange for the complete maintenance of Lelia Cesi, mother of the bride.

The Sanvitale over the years, made various amalgamations of contiguous buildings, including the Theater of Racchetta , which was sold in 1686 by Duke Ranuccio II Farnese to Sanvitale in exchange for some buildings, after the construction of the Ducal Theatre of the Reserve , closer to Farnese court.  In the second half of the eighteenth century the building was renovated by architect Angelo Rasori , assisted by Domenico Cossetti. At the same time was raised also the new facade on the entire north side of the square Sanvitale, on which was opened the new entrance, and was built an entire wing of the building, including the vestibule and the staircase of honor. The inauguration took place on 8 July 1787 , on the occasion of the wedding of Stefano Sanvitale , the eldest son of Count Alexander III , and Luigia Gonzaga.

In the following years the building was enriched with frescoes and stucco, the work of artists of considerable importance, as evidence of the Sanvitale family wealth. 

In the early nineteenth century the imposing building was chosen as representative residence for illustrious guests passing through Parma. On the night of 9 November 1804 the Pope Pius VII slept there, en route to Paris where he attended the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte . The emperor himself, coming from Bologna , stopped there the following year on the night between 26 and 27 June. In exchange for the hospitality received, Napoleon rewarded immediately Count Stefano Sanvitale with a gold box, the following year appointed him maire (mayor) of Parma and in 1814 gave him the title of baron of the Empire The great Theater of Racchetta was demolished around 1830.

In 1932 the last descendant of the Sanvitale, Count John , gave the palace to the Daughters of the Cross, who moved there their own schools, and remained until 1978 , when the building was purchased by Banca del Monte di Parma (one od the oldest bank in town). Between 1979 and 1988 the bank carried out major work of recovery and restoration of the building to turn it into its headquarters. 

 

In 1999 it was inaugurated in the palace, also home of the Fondazione Monte Parma, the Museum Amedeo Bocchi, which was added in 2014 the museum Renato Vernizzi. 

We enjoyed the visit so much, plus our guide was so kind and always ready to answer our (many) questions….really a nice afternoon.

 
 
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Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Pizzoccheri

A strange name, but a very good taste….. Many of my favorites dishes probably are comfort food, and here is one more, Pizzoccheri della Valtellina.

The pasta’s origin lies in Valtellina, a part of the Lombardy region in northern Italy and while some people may immediately be intimidated by this recipe’s amount of butter and cheese, don’t be, it’s worth every bit of it. The traditional recipe calls for buckwheat pasta, which provides a completely different mouth feel than the conventional pasta we normally use and therefor is key for this dish. It isn’t easy probably to track down this kind of pasta outside of Italy, but you can try this recipe by Giorgio Locatelli for homemade buckwheat pasta.

For the pasta:

  • 250 g buckwheat or wholemeal flour
  • 200 g ’00’ flour, or unbleached flour
  • 200 ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp salt

1. In a large bowl, mix the two types of flour together. Make a well in the middle and pour the water and olive oil into the well. Stir, gradually drawing in the flour from around the edge, to form a dough.

2. Knead the dough vigorously for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and springy. If the dough is too dry, wet your hands. Don’t wet the dough.

3. Cut into pieces wide enough for your pasta machine. Pass each piece through the rollers, starting on the highest setting, and continuing down to setting 3. This dough is quite dry and brittle, so you don’t want it too thin.

4. Cut the dough into 1cm thick strips and set aside.

Main ingredients:

  • 1 potato, cut into small cubes
  • 2 leeks, shredded
  • 1 small Savoy cabbage, (inner leaves only) diced
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 125 g butter
  • 100 g finely grated parmesan
  • 175 g fontina cheese, diced
  • black pepper

5. Put the potato into a large saucepan of boiling salted water (at least 3 litres). Cook for a few minutes until ‘al dente’.

6. Add the pasta to the pan along with the leeks, cabbage and sage leaves. Bring back to the boil and cook for 12-15 minutes until the pasta is ‘al dente’.

7. Drain, then tip into a warm serving dish. Add the butter and both the cheeses. Mix well, then season to taste and serve.

I can tell you, you never tasted something soooo delicious!

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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