The trip of a lifetime.

Did you ever experience something that you felt was really personally transforming–and then wanted to share it (talk about the experience) with others but the thoughts and feelings felt so big–too big to begin? Well, that’s how I’ve felt about my recent trip to Piedmont, Italy–which was just before Thanksgiving (thus the reason why you haven’t heard a peep from me since my last blog about making duck confit!).

So, first, I want to apologize–I’ve recieved many sweet, kind (and concerned) emails asking me “where are you??” Please know that I’m never “missing” because I don’t want to connect–I just sometimes become very filled with what’s going on around me and, quite honestly, ever since this past trip (and then with the holidays), I’ve had an incredibly hard time getting out of my kitchen –not a bad thing–it’s because I’ve been having so much fun (no joke)!  I will admit, though, that the continual nagging question “should I or shouldn’t I tell you every little thing about my fabulous trip to Italy?” has helped to keep me in a continual state of procrastination with this blog. Sorry about that.

First of all, I’d like to share why these kinds of journeys are so special to me.

When I travel to Europe, I don’t shop. My goal is to get under the skin of a culture by exploring, in depth, the unique cuisine of a particular region. Why? Because that’s how I get to keep it all alive–When I get home and bring to life the cooking techniques that I’ve learned, this enables me to make (and keep) cherished scents, sites and tastes an integral part of my everyday existance–This way, all my cherished experiences in far away places can continue to color my life and, ultimately, to create the feeling of joy–and not just for me.  I’ve found that learning authentic Old World cusine (for modern folks like you and me) is a wonderful way for me to”get” and then, by teaching others, I also get to “give.” I love that. 

So, because this particular 8 day trip was so extensive and so valuable to me (and kept Jon and I so busy that we could barely breathe–in a GOOD way) …and because it would take the length of many blogs to convey every single step–I’ve finally decided to take you, one experience (and recipe) at a time, through my amazing journey.

But, before I do anything, I need to tell you about the fantastic company that designed this trip of a life time, for Jon and I.

Late last spring, when I started to think about where Jon and I should go on our next trip, I started to think about the best meal I ever had, which was last December, in a restaurant in Barcelona. (If you read my blog called “My birthday in Barcelona” you know that I (as are most sane people) am in love with white truffles.” So, I waited for the right moment and said to Jon …Honey, why don’t we go truffle hunting in Italy next fall?” I immediately got really quiet and waited to hear him laugh. (No laughing –Yay!!)

A few weeks later, Jon came home and told me about a company that he heard about from a friend called Trufflepig (There’s no space in-between truffle and pig–just one glorious word.) Now, before you get the wrong idea, despite their name, this company, that’s based in Canada and Paris, “truffles”are not their specialty–The name Trufflepig is actually meant to convey their metaphorical specialty, which is to sniff out all the sources to create a custom-made, dream vacation for their clients (sniffing– truffles– pigs, get it??) It just so happens that my absolute dream vacation would test their ability to provide both, a literal and figurative translation, which they did so perfectly–so beautifully. (BTW: this company is certainly not limited to do “foodie” vacations–they do custom trips that aim to float the boat of clients with a wide range of interests and they do it all over the world, not just in Europe.) Jack Dancy is who you want to talk to at Trufflepig (tell him I sent you)–and Rudston Steward was our more-than-amazing guide, who planned everything from the hotels, to the restaurants, to the very specific people and places that we went in order to build us a trip that was not just dripping in truffles but also filled with culinary adventure, real learning and also resulted in many new friends.

 By the way, when in season (which this was) truffles in this part of the world are like chocolate in Hershey Pennsylvania—There will be more about that to come…)  

So, to begin to finally share with you my culinary growth spurt–I want to start at the beginning with my first request for Trufflepig–before I even left for Italy. Since I wanted to use this trip to learn about the foods of northern Italy–not just about truffles–I did some research. When reading a recent issue of La Cucina Italiana, I saw a book that they recommended that was all about the foods of northern Italy, called “Italian Farmers Table“–which I promptly bought on Amazon.com. (A fabulous book!!!)

In this book, one of the recipes that immediately caught my attention was for “Croxetti” also called “corzetti”–coin shaped pasta that’s embossed on both sides with an ornate design–usually a family crest. When I tried to find an online source for the wooden stamps, I learned that only a very few artisans make them–all in Liguria–which, although it’s not Piedmonte, it was in northern Italy and I was hoping that Rudston (our guide for our upcoming trip) could help “sniff out” an artisan who could make me a custom-made (corzetti) stamp. Rudston went to work and, of course, he came through!–and this was just the very first thing he did to help my dreams come true on this fabulous trip.

Now, it’s time to share with you what I learned! First of all, since I’m sure (if you love to cook) I’ve stirred up your curiosity about croxetti pasta–So, let me give you the name and contact of the wonderful artisan who made me my stamp and sent it from Liguria, Italy. His name is Franco Casoni and his email is: studio@francocasoni.it As soon as I got home from Italy, I emailed Franco the artwork and my stamp arrived about three weeks later. The cost, all in (with postage) was about $65.00)

This is what my stamp looks like when put together (raw rounds of pasta dough get sandwiched in between the top and the bottom):

 Here’s the stamp opened revealing the concave side that cuts coins (rounds) out of the sheet of pasta dough (the other side of this part has my LGK logo embossed on it). The other part has a floral design embossed.

 Below (although it’s hard to see) is the other side of the part that cuts the dough into coins (showing my logo).

So, first you need a nice and firm-yet totally supple– pasta dough… (2 cups OO flour, 2 extra large eggs, 3 extra-large yolks, 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt).  

After dividing the dough into pieces, you’ll roll it out using a pasta maker only through the second setting (but do it three times!). (Although I love rolling pasta by hand, you won’t be able to get smooth coins out of scraps of dough–so it’s best to use a machine, whether hand-cranked or electric). So, divide the dough into quarters and, working with one piece at a time, flour the piece and roll it through the first (widest) setting four times, folding and flouring in between–this strengthens it. Then, go to the second setting and roll it through three times, flouring when the dough feels at all sticky. Then, lay the sheet out and cut out coins (rounds), using that side of the stamp.

Now, take the rounds of dough and place them over the inverted side that you used to cut. Place the other part of the stamp on top of the round of dough and “press” to emboss it with both, your insignia and the design that’s on the other side (By the way, all of this design stuff is all up to you–you design it, Franco makes it and sends it!

After lifting off the top part,  you can see the floral design on the top of the dough. The bottom side of the dough has my LGK logo

Here are my little bubalahs drying…don’t you just love them?!

Place the coins onto a floured sheet pan (I place a silicone mat on a baking sheet and rub some flour into it). Leave them out to dry for 1 hour or longer before cooking them in plenty of boiling, salted water for anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes. This will depend on how long you’ve let them dry before cooking them.

Before putting the coins in boiling water, have your sauce started…

Melt some butter in a 3 1/2 quart, wide, sloped saucepan. Add a good handful of pine nuts (pignoli) and, saute the nuts, stirring frequently, until both, the milk solids in the butter and the nuts turn a toasty brown (not black–just nice and golden brown).  Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add to the browned butter, 2 cloves of garlic (minced or pressed through a garlic press), a generous splash of cream, a double generous splash of good homemade chicken stock and a tablespoon or so of chopped marjoram (use fresh oregano, as a substitute–a couple of chopped sage leaves (called “salvia” in Italian) is also good. Heat the liquids and butter together to release the flavors of the herbs and to get things piping hot–then add the cooked pasta coins (make sure they’re tender first!) and, if needed, thin the sauce with pasta water.

Once the pasta is added, stir in the toasted nuts and a good handful of freshly grated parmesan…

 

Shimmy the pan to help everything dance together well, then hurry up and eat! BEYOND DELICIOUS! (Serve with extra grated Parmesan and a competent pepper-mill passed at the table…)

So, although I couldn’t meet the artisan Corzetti stamp maker (Franco Casoni) when in Italy, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t eventually cook using an authentic, hand-made tool–by him,  just for me. 

The Point: Although I know that it probably seems very odd to start a blog all about the best parts of a trip –with something that happened once I got home (and not even from the exact territory where I traveled)–but I want to illustrate how this amazing company, Trufflepig, not only respected my desires but made it their mission to create the experience of a lifetime–And I just couldn’t go into all the wonderful things about this trip without saying a big fat public THANK YOU to those at Trufflepig!

The next blogs will be all about truffles, (including truffle hunting), tajarin, carne cruda, grissini, vitello tonnato, agnolotti dal plin, candied poached pears, hazelnuts–So many delicious, gorgeous experiences–with interwoven recipes all inspired by this trip to Piedmonte, Italy. I’ll be back (very soon)! (Yay, my blogging slump is officially over!)

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