Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chalet Ghiazza

Chalet Ghiazza is a family home set at the foot of Monte Bianco. The Ghiazza family has lived here for 42 years, originally from the Milan area. They speak Italian and French (interchangeably) which was good for me because so do I (kinda)!

Their beautiful wooden home is surrounded by rich alpine vegetation, wild flowers, fruit trees, and a garden full of greens, zucchini, beans, carrots, onions, potatoes, berries, and flowers. They have planters on the balcony full of herbs and flowers as well.

I lived in a small studio apartment in the heart of Courmayeur and walked the 1 km to their house every other day. It was a beautiful arrangement because I had time to myself at night and every other day I had the entire off to hike and enjoy the area. The days I was at Chalet Ghiazza, I was collecting slugs, watering plants, mowing the "park" (aka yard), harvesting fruit. legumes and veggies, washing greens, preparing vegetables to be frozen for the winter and just enjoying taking in the beautiful views. We ate primarily vegetarian and fresh from the garden, which I loved!

Franco & Daniela Ghiazza, my lovely and generous hosts!

I made this vegetable soup with things I picked fresh from the garden- peas, carrots, herbs, potatoes, onions. The only things purchased were the pepper and rice. 

Freshly picked peas are the sweetest things you will ever taste. A real treat!

Green beans

These purple beans were beautiful! They begin green and mature to purple. When you boil them, the beans and the water turn green! 

Flowers on the purple bean plant.

A freshly picked pear which now needs to ripen. They also had various plums and apricots and thus, lots of yummy marmalades.

Daniela preparing a simple but delicious ricotta dish with beet greens, olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve with fresh bread or crostini.

Fresh Ricotta
Beet Greens (or Spinach)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Seasoned Bread Crumbs (optional)

1. Boil and cut beet greens into smaller pieces.
2. Heat pan with EVOO, add fresh Ricotta mixed with greens and seasonings.
3. When golden brown, flip and continue cooking other side until also golden brown.
4. Slide out of pan and place on plate.
5. Serve with assorted breads and crostini

Grigliata! We cleaned the grill flat top with red wine first. These veggies were marinated in fresh tomato puree, garlic, salt, EVOO and fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil). No vinegar was used, only tomato!

Polenta e Formaggio Pasticiata (mix/mess)
This was a delicious Val d'Astoan dish! Cooked polenta that was then mixed with various cheeses  and baked. The polenta was cooked with a bechemel sauce and the cheeses were local Fontina, aged Toma and Parmigiano. Savory, rich and delicious!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sono la Cacciatore d’Lumaca (I am the Slug Hunter)!

The not so glamourous part of food production starts with slugs. I spent my first hour each day at Chalet Ghiazza hunting for slugs (lumaca). Yes, hunting. Every morning I would walk the beautiful yard, between the fruit trees, in the garden and along the flower beds searching for these orangish-brown balls of slime. At first I was not so excited but the more I did it, the more rewarding I found it when I discovered these slimy suckers hiding under wood pieces, leaves or in tall grass.

The Slug Hunter... on the hunt!

I began with only one plastic tub but soon realized that I needed to double up so the babies wouldn't fall through the holes in the bottom.

They are faster than you'd think! You can't leave them for more than a minute without them attempting to escape!

Sometimes they were "kinda" cute.

You may be wondering what the big deal is with slugs? Why would someone care if they were in their garden? Well let me tell you! The problem with lumaca (lumace plural) is that they love to eat green leaves. Which means in a garden full of lettuce and other leafy greens, this is a problem because they eat your nutrient-rich food! And this of course is absolutely unacceptable behavior! 

I once found a slug with his head burrowed in the most beautiful wild strawberry. The audiacity of that sucker! We only had maybe 6 strawberries and we were monitoring their color every day. As soon as they turned red, we were picking them but one day a slug beat us to the prize! 
Once caught, I would fling the slugs across the creek, hoping the water would keep them away from our beautiful garden. Although they were probably in shock for the wild ride, it was at least more humane than feeding them to the chickens. This was only because the chickens refused to eat the bigger ones. They preferred the smaller, more tender baby slugs. 

So yes, I now know way too much information about slugs. I know more than I ever wanted to about slug eating habits, maturation cycles, hiding areas, times for movement and slug mating behavior. But hey, if you ever need someone to do some slug removal in your garden, you know who to call! 

Take me home, country roads...

… to the place I belong.

1,224 meters in elevation (approximately 3,672 feet). This town sits at nearly half the elevation of Colorado Springs, but is surrounded by mountains that are just as tall as Pikes Peak, reaching over 4,800 meters high (14,000 feet). Monte Bianco is 4,810 meters (14,430 feet) and it is surrounded by others that are comparable in size. You are essentially seeing more mountain here.

Town square of Courmayeur, Monte Bianco in the background

Thank you John Denver. When I arrived to Courmayeur I felt like I was home. Colorado will always have a piece of my heart but the Italian Alps will forever hold a very special place in my soul. I found my home in Italy here in Courmayeur. I felt like my old "Mountain Mama" self again.

Hiking in the Val Ferret

I loved this mountain oasis, situated on the border of France and Switzerland, the farthest north and west you can possibly be while remaining in Italy. 

The border at the top of Monte Bianco, nearly 14,000 feet in elevation.

Every day I had off I was hiking for 6-7 hours on some of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen. As you all know, I love Colorado with nearly all my heart but these mountains put our Rocky Mountains to shame. The Alps are truly special. They are epic. Rocky. Jagged. Jutting out of the earth holding such power and strength that all you can do is just stare at them in awe and begin to realize your insignificant size in comparison to these historic giants.

Glacier Frebouge in Val Ferret, there are people at the end of that trail.

I love the Val d’Aosta region, especially the area closest to Monte Bianco (France’s Mont Blanc), Gran Paradiso National Park and Monte Cervino (the Italian side of Switzeraland’s Matterhorn).

Monte Bianco from Rifugo Maison Vielle

Monte Bianco is the most beautiful Italian I have encountered on this trip and I can’t wait to see him again.

Looking at the town of La Palud and the Val Ferret

Took a trip to La Joux to hike to 3 waterfalls. 

This is the 3rd waterfall. It was a torrent of power plunging down the rocks. Can you see all the mist coming off?

Hiking down along the river. The water is quite cloudy from the glacier melt and fast moving water. 

Took the bus to Pont and hiked a beautiful trail to Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele in the Grand Paridiso National Park. It looked so much like Colorado, I felt like I was home.

They serve beer at the rifugo at the top! Woohoo! It was the best Moretti I have ever had.

I took a cable car to the top of Monte Bianco and across the pass to France. Here you can see the cars hovering above the mountains and gigantic glaciers below.

The Val Veny. Monte Bianco is on the right. Spectacular view.

At the top

The famous mountain top in this region, the Giant Tooth. Can you see it sticking up?

Ice climbers getting gear ready for a climb.

The same group, with the crevasse in front of them. Gives a little more perspective to the enormity of this place. 

Chamonix, France (the other side of Monte Bianco ... aka Mont Blanc here) is known as the birthplace of Mountaineering. 

View from the cable car.

Aiguille di Midi. French side of Mont Blanc.

In an ice tunnel that leads to an ice trail

Love it here! Mountain paradise!

Another shot from the French side. 

Walking back to Courmayeur

“Mountains make my heart sing” – Mary McNamera.

My friend Mary said this about how being in the mountains makes her feel, and I completely agree. I feel so alive and so happy when I am near them. They bring me peace and contentment. My home will always be surrounded by them. 

Grazie Mille Italia. I will be back. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Farm life


Azienda Agricola L’Amaranto is located in Rivalta, high in the hills of Barolo. It is between the towns of Alba (birthplace of the Slow Food Movement and Nutella) and Bra (location of the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Italy 

In terms of food and wine, you could say that this area is one of the most important areas of Italy. Stuff grows well here. Lauren and I were lucky enough to WWOOF with a family who has a “small” vegetable and nut business with a “little” bread making on the side. 

Hazelnuts. Never again will I look at a hazelnut in the same way. The harvesting process is back breaking. If you do it by hand, you are bent over picking them for hours, and end up with your neck, back and hamstrings hurting. I prefer the sitting method!

Not all hazelnuts are created equally! Some are too young, raw and light in color. Others are too old, from last year and are blackish-brownish in color and too light for the weight of what the nut should be. Only the ones that are "just right" should be picked. Most of the hazelnuts in this area are sold to Nutella.
These hazelnuts were harvested with a vacuum machine and dumped on the front "lawn". Now we must sort through them to keep only the good ones.

Squashes growing wild in the garden!

Watering is not as easy as it may look. Lauren was only asked to do it once. The hardest part is controlling the hose and not allowing it to crush the delicate leeks and cabbage heads!
And you will always get muddy!

These organic tomatoes were the most pure, delicious tomato candy I have ever tasted. Could not get enough of these beauties!!

Lauren is tying the tomato vines to a pole. This helps them grow vertically and avoid trapping moisture causing rot. This farm also planted basil at the base of tomato plants. Hello Capresi Salad!

The Farm. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, beans, leeks, etc.... Looks small, but produces a lot and is not so small when you water each individual plant in the morning and then harvest in the afternoon.
Harvesting onions
Veggies getting ready to go to the markets in Liguria and Piemonte
Harvesting Borlotti beans... aka Cranberry Beans in the US

The veggies, ready for the market. A beautiful array of color and taste!

And they bake!

In the hazelnut grove


Just a bit of parsley. They also sold herb packages at the market with parsley, rosemary & sage. Just missing a little thyme.

The onions! 

Lauren and I really enjoyed learning, helping and contributing to this farm. And the organic produce at every meal was certainly a plus! What educational fun we had!