Brunate – The balcony on the Alps

Shelter-in-place measures have been lifted! We can travel around and enjoy day trips in Italy’s mild summer weather, in one of my favorite places on Earth: Lake Como. After so much time indoors I wanted to spend a day in the open, still respecting the safety measures. So facemask on and hand sanitiser in my bag, I left for Como with the intention of a short day trip.

Sitting right on the shore of Lake Como

Sitting right on the shore of Lake Como

Not even an hour from Poggio Verde, perched on the mountains above lake Como, there’s a little town called Brunate. It is a favorite place around here. The reason why, is that people can reach it by car or by the picturesque Bru-co funicular. “Bruco” in Italian means Caterpillar, but is also a combination of the two words Brunate and Como, the two towns the funicular connects. Funnily enough, in September (when I could not have known what life was about to become) I had gone to Como and bought a ticket to visit Brunate, but due to unforeseen circumstances I couldn’t do it. The end of the lockdown seemed like a perfect occasion to take advantage of my unused ticket!

The Bruco funicular is part of the joy of this experience. It was built in 1894 to ease movement between the small town and the larger city of Como. The cars, renovated in 2011, still bear the typical colors: lilac going up and red to come down. From the windows one can admire the beautiful landscape opening on the lake as the cars go up. 

The view from the funicular

The view from the funicular

Once we arrived we immediately stopped to take pictures from one of the many viewpoints, which make the town famous. They are so many they grant Bruante the well-deserved name of “balcony of the Alps”. The sun was bright and the Lake shined at the bottom of the valley. What a marvellous view, even though the haze made it difficult to take perfect pictures.

We stopped for a coffee at one of the cafes near the viewpoint and got ready for a short walk. We wanted to enjoy the many art nouveau villas scattered throughout the town. Brunate has more than 20 architectural beauties, varying from art nouveau to Italian eclectic style, packed in just 2 square kilometers of surface (less than 1 square mile). 

Another main attraction in Brunate, less easy to reach, is the famous Lighthouse dedicated to Alessandro Volta. He invented the electric battery, and also the reason why Volts are the unit of measure for electic power. The lighthouse sits at the very top of the town and you can reach it on foot (a 30 minutes city hike) or by bus. The view from there is simply beautiful and, when open, it is also possible to climb on top of it, to see the world 100 feet on top of the mountain. The lighthouse is lit every evening and is colored red, green and white to light the Lake nights with the colors of the Italian flag. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic it was not possible to go inside it. I will surely come back one day to climb on top and see the world from above.

After taking loads of pictures and sitting for a little while under the shade with an ice lolly, we returned to the station. There we waited for the Brucoand returned to Como.

It was almost dinner time, and what better way to end a day trip than with a good restaurant dinner? If you are in Como, we recommend Gretchen’s favourite restaurant there, L’angolo del Silenzio (the corner of silence). Here’s her comment:

The restaurant is a very low-key place, a typical “Trattoria” run by a family that has been managing this locale for more than three generations. It feels a little bit like going into someone’s home. Not terribly fancy but with food and service that makes you feel like a guest. I always enjoy going to restaurants in Italy where the other diners are not only other foreign visitors, but also “regulars“, members of the local community who return again and again. It is also a pleasure to support a restaurant like this that you know is run by several generations of people dedicated to fine Italian cuisine. In this case they are masters in specialities such as stuffed pasta, local lake fish and almond cake. I highly recommend it!”  

Visit to Val Curone: La Costa to Galbusera Nera

Val Curone, a regional park about 20 minutes from the villa, is a delightful place to spend a few hours walking, painting, dining or wine tasting.

One of our favorite things to do there is to walk from La Costa Agristurismo to Galbusera Nera, both of which are picturesque and offer wondering painting or photography opportunities.

We typically park near the old farmhouse and walk (or paint) from there. The hill just above the farmhouse has lovely views of the grapevine-covered hills and view back to the farmhouse itself.

 

The interior of the old farmhouse is quite charming.

 

From the farmhouse, views of La Costa Agriturismo, with five apartments and four double rooms, is quite picturesque.

 

 

The Agriturismo La Costa is a lovely and quiet spot from which to explore the Val Curone.

 

The walk down to Galbusera Nera, where one can have a lovely lunch or a casual wine-tasting,  is not long and passes through a heavy forest before opening up near the donkey farm and on to the restaurant and winery.

 

At Galbusera Nera, one can enjoy a lovely al fresco lunch or wine tasting when it’s nice outside, or dine indoors. Either way, the food and wine are tasty and the service is friendly and professional. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Poggio Pots and Pans live cook-in

Hello Poggio Friends!

We hope you are all doing great, even in this difficult time. 

We had a glorious time last Friday during our first ever Poggio Pots and Pans live cook-in! Many of you made it possible: first of all Antonella Pavanello, who so kindly agreed to show us her scrumptious menu featuring salmon, citrus pesto and a delicious strawberry dessert, which was universally loved. Martha and Judith, thank you too for helping us to invite all the friends who joined us on zoom: Jeanette, Carol, Mefran, Cathy, Mary, DeAun, Margaret, Martha, Patti, Sharm, Lubna, Becky and Mary! You are those who made the lesson great: seeing so many friendly faces brought us joy and we hope it did the same for you.

We received some great reviews from our friends in Tennessee: “like a fine New York Italian restaurant” and Kansas, “That was so much fun, I loved seeing everyone!”  The Poggio Family wants this positivity and good energy to continue! We have another lesson in the works, hoping that even more Poggio friends will wish to be together and cook with us. 

To be updated on new Poggio Pots and Pans live cook-in events, write us an email or follow us on social media!

For other Poggio Pots and Pans recipe, check our previous episodes!

Poggio Pots and Pans – Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Sage

As every Friday, Poggio Pots and Pans is back with another yummy recipe we made together. We hope you are enjoying these virtual trips that take a little bit of Italy into your kitchen, all the way across the  Atlantic ocean to the US. We also want to thank you for all the comments and support you are giving us!

This week it’s one of northern Italy’s most famous specialties. This dish is widely known (and constantly mispronounced) but few people know that gnocchi are actually easy to make. This is a homey dish for those without access to many fancy ingredients other than the humble potato. We learned how to make Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Sage from chef Marzia di Luzio during a cooking lesson with Trissy and her marvellous group of friends from Alabama!

Marzia di Luzio with our friends from Alabama


Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Sage


Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 1 ¾ pounds potatoes
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • Salt to taste
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • 4 T / 2 oz. butter
  • 5 to 8 sage leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

First of all, wash the unpeeled potatoes and boil in unsalted water until cooked through. Peel and mash them while still hot, add the flour a little at a time, then the salt, nutmeg and finally the egg yolk. 

Working the ingredients gently until you have a soft dough, form cylinders with a thickness of your finger and then cut into 1-inch lengths. Put them in flour to keep them from sticking to each other.

Now, bring salted water to a boil.  Melt the butter in a small frying pan, add the fresh sage leaves and garlic cloves;  allow the butter to turn until golden. Gently place gnocchi into the boiling water, a few at a time. As soon as they rise to the surface, remove them from the water using a slotted spoon or strainer and dress them with the sage garlic butter.  Lastly, place them in a chafing dish and sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.  

Optional: Just before serving slide under the broiler for a few minutes. And then, enjoy!

See you next week!

More recipes from “Poggio Pots and Pans”

Poggio Pots and Pans – Creamy Peach Almond Cups

Poggio Pots and Pans:  Cheer up, it’s almost peach season! According to certain people we are what we eat, and maybe that is why Italians are so focused on enjoying delicious food, like Antonella Pavanello’s Creamy Peach Almond Cups.  And let’s face it: we frankly need some cheering up.  From personal experience during lockdown in Milan, we know that mood improvement CAN and DOES pass through the taste buds! Here is Antonella’s easy but delicious creamy but crunchy peach dessert.  Plus, these cups are beautiful to behold, and give whoever makes them the satisfaction of creating something attractive using your hands.  

Wow your family or just yourself with these colorful cups to end your meal; this is a dessert worth the small effort required to make them.  

Starring in this recipe, again Sheryl and her friends from Alabama and Georgia.

Sheryl and her friends tasting the amaretti cookies

Tasting the amaretti before adding them to the cups


Creamy Peach Almond Cups


Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 9 oz.  vanilla yoghurt
  • 5 oz. fresh cream
  • 2 large yellow peaches
  • 2 T confectioners sugar
  • 1 carton raspberries
  • 12 amaretti cookies
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • Cocoa powder to dust

 

Preparing the cups

Preparing the cups with chef Antonella

First of all, peel the peaches and food-process the pulp with 1 tablespoon of confectioners sugar and 4 raspberries to obtain a pinkish coulis. In a bowl, whip the cream with the remaining confectioners sugar and gently incorporate it into the yogurt.

Next, toast the almonds in a non-stick pan for a couple of minutes without seasoning, until they begin to color.

Place an amaretto on the bottom of a small glass or small clear bowl; pour over a spoonful of peach coulis then layer a yoghurt cream and crumble over a little amaretto and some almonds. Add more peach coulis and another layer of cream; garnish each dessert with some raspberries, another crumbled amaretto, and the remaining almonds.

Sprinkle lightly with cocoa and serve immediately or keep it in the fridge until serving. 

Be careful not to refrigerate them too long, otherwise the amaretti cookies become soggy and lose their crunch.

And here they are! Enjoy!

Voilà! Creamy Peach Almond Cups

Creamy Peach Almond Cups ready to enjoy

Check other Poggio Pots and Pans recipes for Linguine with fava beans and polenta rounds!

Day in Valtellina: Castel Grumello

The steep slopes on the north side of the beautiful Valtellina valley are covered with vineyards growing mostly nebbiolo grapes, which are made into some lovely wine. In fact, the wine was our reason for going to Valtellina in the first place. We had made the drive up and down the valley many times to have a wine tasting at Aldo Rainoldi and lunch at Fracia Ristorante, then stop in for the local meats and cheeses at Fratelli Ciapponi or La Fiorida before returning to the villa. We did notice the castle up there on the outcropping, though, and finally drove up to check it out and have been back many times since. The castle itself, Castel Grumello, was really interesting but the nice surprise was the amazing views up and down the valley, too.

 

Because of its strategic location between Italy and Central Europe, Valtellina was once home to numerous castles. The Castel Grumello, a “twin castle” with a military and a residential area, was begun in the 13th century and destroyed in 1526 by the Gray League (which also destroyed many of the other castles in the area).

 

 

 

 

We’ve visited the castle on sunny and rainy days, before lunch and after lunch and it’s always a treat.

 

It’s a great spot to take group pics!

 

One of the paths down from the castle passes through a little “restoro” with grapes hanging above the patio, and then by a private home with a balcony and a stunning view to the east.

 

Day in Valtellina: Ristorante Fracia

Ristorante Fracia, which we visited on our first day trip to Valtellina from Poggio Verde, remains our favorite. Its location is superb, nestled as it is among the Nino Negri vineyards, and its outdoor dining area is unforgettable. In the spring the purple wisteria hangs down from the pergola and in the fall the seed pods provide the interest. The indoor dining room is also very pleasant. Chef Luca Cantoni prepares reliable and tasty local food and our server, Fabrizio, is professional and friendly and we are always so glad to see them both.

 

The chef, Luca Cantoni, and his assistant in the kitchen turn out wonderful local food, beautifully and simply presented.

 

As Fracia is owned by Nino Negri, the excellent wines served there come from the vines surrounding the restaurant. We typically treat it as a sort of second wine tasting (in the morning we often visit Aldo Rainoldi, which we love).

 

When there’s time, and the group is so inclined, we take a post-prandial walk a few minutes up the hill to an overlook to take in the views. On a recent trip, we noticed that one of our group had walked on past the overlook and when he didn’t reappear immediately we went to find him and see what he was up to. He had come across a grape harvesting crew, quite a wonderful surprise! The crew foreman told us in broken English about the grapes and gave us some to taste and to take back to the villa.

 

We have also thoroughly enjoyed the Michelin-starred La Presef at the Fiorida complex west of Morbegno, and can certainly recommend it, but we do love Fracia for its location, the warm welcome we always receive, and the well-prepared, simple local food.

 

 

Poggio Pots and Pans – Linguine with Fava Bean Pesto

Welcome back to “Poggio Pots and Pans”, here, take a seat! We were just about to get started with a new recipe from Poggio. But first of all we would like to really thank you all for the comments, the kind words of support and the messages! Hearing from you brings us joy and a feeling of connection with our Poggio friends. 

While looking for a recipe to share, we came across some pictures from a cooking lesson with the talented chef Antonella Pavanello and Sheryl Lott’s fun group of friends from Alabama and Georgia.  

Chef Pavanello cleaning the Basil

Antonella taught us how to make Linguine with pesto made from fava beans, basil, dried tomatoes, mint and Pecorino cheese, a satisfying spring recipe to bring some color into your meal! In addition to being beautiful, this dish is packed with useful nutrients: favas and cheese are protein, pasta is a great source of carbs while fresh mint, basil and tomatoes are fibers and vegetables.

Favas are available in American food stores such as Publix and on-line.


Linguine with fava beans, dried tomatoes,  mint and pecorino pesto


Ingredients for 6 to 8 people:

  • 500 gr linguine or spaghetti

For fava bean pesto:

  • 16 ounces fresh or frozen fava beans (canned can be used in a pinch but they are not as green)
  • 2 ounces or 3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese (you can substitute parmigiano)
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons dried tomatoes in oil (substitute halved cherry tomatoes sprinkled with salt and sugar and baked for 45 minutes at 360°F)
  • 1 bunch basil leaves (about 30 leaves)
  • A few mint leaves (about 15)
  • 1 clove garlic (if desired)
  • 1 cup or more Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Let’s get started!

  • Cook the beans in lightly salted boiling water for 4 or 5 minutes. Drain and cool them under running water and remove the outer coat (if not already peeled).
  • Clean, wash and dry the mint and basil leaves. Combine the fava beans and the other ingredients in a food processor and slowly add the oil until you obtain a homogeneous mixture. Add salt and pepper and mix again until you obtain the consistency of a liquid pesto.
  • Pour the pesto into a bowl. Cook the linguine in rapidly boiling salted water for the time indicated on the package; dilute the pesto with a spoon of cooking water. Place the colander on top of the serving dish in the sink, then drain the linguine in the colander so that your serving dish gets nice and hot. Empty the hot cooking water from the dish, add the linguini and pesto. Mix well and serve.

Let us see your Linguine with Fava beans pesto if you try making them!

Previous recipe by “Poggio Pots and Pans”

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Silver Lining Chronicles – Virtual Museums

One of the positive aspects of working at home during Italy’s lockdown (apart from the infinite availability of blankets and cozy sweaters whenever I want!) has been the leap in interest in Italian culture and art on-line. All that beauty we Italians took for granted is now temporarily out of reach, leaving us with a lot of empty time to consider everything we could have done but didn’t when we still could go out, like visiting that museum or exhibition everyone was talking about.

Yet technology makes it possible to partake, even without leaving the house. And isn’t Italy famous for its cultural heritage? Museums all over the country have been making virtual tours available for us to enjoy. It is definitely a good way to use our laptops and tablets!

And that is why, Poggio friends, we would like to share with you our Top Three virtual museums and tours.

  1. Pinacoteca di Brera. We are partial to this museum, it’s in Milan, in the beautiful Brera nieghbourhood! The online collection features high quality digital versions of the great masterpieces. They have recently implemented a virtual tour in English.

  2. Musei Vaticani. Despite being one of the richest tourable exhibitions on the planet, visitors are often scared by the long line it takes to enter and visit.  That is not a  problem anymore with a virtual tour here. Most areas of the museum are available online, even the outstanding Sistine Chapel and Raffaello’s frescos in Pope Julius II chambers!

  3. Galleria degli Uffizi. Last but not least, the Uffizi! When visiting Florence, the Uffizi is a mandatory stop. Many of the most renowned masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance are kept there for visitors to appreciate. Even though it takes a whole day to see everything in the Uffizi the museum has made available online many of their recent exhibitions which investigate the connection between ancient art and modern perception.

If after these tours, you still are hungry for art, here are some other links to European museums that can help!

 

Welcome to “Poggio Pots and Pans”

 

Trissy, Ann and Lindsey are learning her techniques while enjoying an aperitif.

Trissy, Ann and Lindsey are learn Marzia’s techniques while enjoying an aperitif.

We’re stuck at home here in Italy, so cheerful pictures like this one of chef Marzia showing us how to make polenta rounds really bring joy!  Food is a staple in Italian culture and we love cooking together with family and visitors.  Here we’ll share some delicious and easy recipes that you can try making at home, bringing a little bit of Italy into your kitchen.

Marzia Di Luzio, dressed here in her bright red chef jacket, gave us a memorable lesson on how to make Gorgonzola Polenta Rounds. Satisfying and cheesy, these rounds are easy and tasty: enjoyed with a mixed salad it makes a wholesome Italian meal.

Here we’ve adapted the recipe using some southern grits, a gift from Poggio Verde guest Peggy Lee, easily available in American food stores.

Trissy and Friends hit their stride in the Poggio Verde kitchen. Hooray!

Welcome to Poggio Pots and Pans!

Upcoming recipes:  Pasta Carbonara, Riza’s delicious meatballs and more!


Gorgonzola Polenta (or Grits) Rounds


Ingredients (4 servings or 14 rounds):

  • 1 cup grits or polenta (follow the recipe on the package; usually calls for water, salt and a touch of butter)
  • 6 oz. gorgonzola, blue or flavourful cheese
  • Flour for the work surface
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans 
  • A whole garlic clove to flavour the nuts
  • salt
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven on the grill setting to 420°

  • Follow the grits (or polenta) recipe on the box (or use leftover grits or polenta).  Turn the hot polenta out on a wax-lined baking sheet, spread it out somewhat and let it cool completely.  
  • Use your hands or the back of a spoon to press out the polenta ½ inch thick on floured wax paper or a floured marble surface.  Use a cookie cutter or upside down glass to cut out the rounds.
  • Arrange the rounds on an oiled baking sheet, brush tops with olive oil and bake until browned (about 25 minutes)
  • While the rounds are browning, saute the chopped walnuts or pecans in a small frying pan with a drip of oil, whole garlic clove and salt, for about 10 mins.
  • Remove rounds from the oven when brown.  Place about a spoonful of cheese on each and place a few toasted walnut pieces on top.
IMG_5794

These scrumptious rounds can be made with either grits or polenta

Other recipes by “Poggio Pots and Pans”:
Linguine with fava beans pesto
Creamy peach almond cups