Thursday, December 2, 2010

Above All Bon Appetito

I trudged steadly to the top of the mountain Casa Lanzarotti sits upon.  The snow was mid-calf deep with a crusty top layer.  The sky cleared just as I made it to the top.  The chestnut, beech and white oak forest was quiet; the air clean and fresh.  Before I left the house I opened windows and let the cold, but dry air into my apartment and burned frankincense.  The incense brought out the spiders...the big spiders that inhabit this rocky fortress.  I caught the spider in a glass jar to show Iris.  She wasn't impressed.  She took me down into the bowels of the "cantine" and we looked for "the big one".  We didn't find it, but her showing me how big it was with her hands held apart, made me shutter.  Iris assures me that no one has been bitten in the eighteen years she's lived here, but the spiders look a lot like hobo spiders to me.  At least I have caught the one that's been living in my kitchen.  Spiders and flies don't like frankincense?!  The resin has antiseptic properties and perhaps that's why?  I didn't see any spiders on my hike, but I did see a caterpillar crossing the road and I jumped two or three caprioli, small deer.  There are many birds here, but oddly no squirrels.   I've been hiking up, around, down the mountainsides of this semi-circular valley, where the river Taro begins its journey down the valley, through the mountains, Parma and finally into the Po River and ultimately the Adriatic Sea.  Many of the valley's inhabitants immigrated the past century, mostly to France, the US, Brazil and Argentina.  There are many villages, but most are quiet in the winter as the homes are second homes belonging to Italians living abroad or in northern Italy's bigger cities.  The valley is a mushroom picker's paradise.  I made it here late for the harvest, but I have enjoyed many dishes with mushrooms in them.  Yum!  A couple of organic farmers from near Nice, France spent this past week as house guests-Joelle and Jean-Louis.  Jean-Louis' parents are from a small village near Casa Lanzarotti, where the family still owns a couple of homes.    It was fun sharing time with them and Iris.  Joelle and Jean-Louis have been friends of Iris' for some time.  She's trying to talk them into buying a farm here and selling their organic veggies at the market in Parma.  Jean-Louis explained how to make some typical, local dishes.  The locals make a potatoe or rice pie.  You roll out dough, very thin, and then cover it with pre-cooked rice or potatoes, leeks, onions, garlic-basically whatever you want on it, and of course you also add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Roll out another layer of thin dough and cover the whole, rolling the edges together before putting it in the oven.  I haven't tried it yet, but sounds good.  This area is one of the areas that produces the milk that becomes Parmigiano-Reggiano.  I walk to a nearby dairy farm to get milk twice a week, raw milk, (just the way I like it)  and Eleanora, one of the dairy farmers, explained how what they feed their dairy cattle is strictly regulated to assure that their milk is as it should be to produce Parmesan cheese.  They feed their cows, mostly Friesians, three types of hay.  One type is the first crop of hay grown in May.  I was amazed at how strictly the feed is regulated.  Another local food, a pasta, that I helped make and is very tasty, is one that calls for wheat and chestnut flours.  You roll the wheat flour very thin.  I used an electric pasta machine.  Once the pasta is as thin as it needs to be you spread a chestnut flour/water mix onto the wheat dough, cover it with another thinly rolled layer of wheat dough and crimp the edges with a nifty roller that cuts and decorates the edges of the pasta.  You throw these pieces of pasta, roughly 1/2 inch X 1/2 inch into boiling water until tender, then bathe them in a butter, walnut, basil sauce.   This valley has many chestnut trees.  The Austrian/Spanish Hapsburgs controlled this area and introduced and encouraged the planting of chestnut trees.  Chestnut flour is sweet.  I don't normally eat a lot of meat, but I'm working on an organic farm that specializes in organic beef, pork and lamb; so I'm doing what the Romans do while in Rome-eating meat and it's good.  I keep hiking to burn the calories, keep my arteries from clogging and, most importantly, to maintain an appetite.