A delightful Cafè in old Milan – Mixmi

Some of you might remember Mara, the very simpatica chef who joined us several times with our Northern Italian trips at Poggio Verde. Today Mara and 3 of her friends run MIXMI, a Cafè cum delicatessen cum bakery cum clothing and gift shop that is an extraordinarily nice place to enjoy.

I recently visited Mara at Mixmi for a cappuccino and to see again her delightful mix of Fashion, cafe, food, beauty and flowers. 

The Entrance to Mixmi

You can have freshly baked cake with a cappuccino while chatting with a friend. Then you can book a makeup appointment to be ready for your next appointment. The shop offers a wide variety of services, including flower arrangements and bouquets, cafe, hairstyling/blow-drying, massages and makeup. 

Mara’s idea is unique and you can see in her eyes her joy and pride of a successful project coming to life… even during a Pandemic! 

We had a chat with Vrinda, one of the 6 ladies behind Mixmi. She walked us through the concept of the cafe and what they wanted to achieve.

“Milan is a hectic city – she said – but we wanted to offer people in our neighbourhood a place to relax and feel at home. It’s a very welcoming and home-like environment. People can just come in and enjoy a cup of coffee while working remotely. Especially in this period of time where most people are smart-working, it’s good to have a place where you can work without being all on your own. We wanted to become a well-known place in our neighbourhood, which is usually not that frequented”.

Mara and Rosy are the two minds behind the food area of the Cafe. Mara personally bakes all the patisserie and cakes available, inspired by French cuisine. Chef Rosy is in charge of the main courses offered at the cafe.

“Of course, it goes without saying that the pandemic hit hard on us. We weren’t even in our second year of activity. We had to pause most of our services, like makeup and hairstylist. But we jumped right back and we are now working well with delivery services”. 

Everything is small and cozy! Many people turn to them to get help while organising events, like Birthday parties and NYE celebrations. The Mixmi ladies are also active on the cultural side. When it was possible they organised up to 4 events a week, both in Italian and English, spanning from olive oil tasting to History of Art Happy Hour, with an Art Historian. As for the workshops, they cannot be held in person but they found a solution. With Barbara Violi they organised and filmed tutorials to create decoration, with all the material available to purchase at their shop, like a “DIY kit”. 

We wish them best for the future! If you happen to be in Milan, paying them a visit would be a good choice!

 

Poggio Pots and Pans – Pumpkin Saffron Risotto with Prosecco Parmigiano Sauce

Hello dear Poggio Friends,

We hope you all are well and enjoying this leafy and colorful time of year, despite these challenging times. We are happy to be back with you for some tasteful (literally!) news to share. And what more comforting way to begin autumn than in the kitchen?

Poggio Pots and Pans is welcoming Fall with a recipe that celebrates one of the staple ingredients in Northern Italian cuisine in the autumn: the pumpkin! Our local acorn squashes are a bit different from the pumpkins enjoyed all over the world in celebration of Halloween, but their distinctive orange colour is the same and we believe you will agree that their rich flavour is delectable in this traditional Italian recipe with a twist:


Risotto alla Zucca – Pumpkin Saffron Risotto with Prosecco Parmigiano Sauce


(Pumpkin Saffron Risotto – Adapted from a recipe by Yolanda Garretti, copyright 2015 – Associazione Italian Friends of TCF)

INGREDIENTS FOR 4

For the sauce: 

  • 375 ml/1 ½ cup Prosecco or dry white wine
  • 1 chopped shallot
  • 50 g salted butter/ ½ stick 
  • 50 g/2 oz grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 300 g/10.5 oz. cream 
  • 6 envelopes (0,9 g) of powdered saffron 
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the risotto: 

  • 250 g/8.80 oz of Arborio or Carnaroli rice 
  • 1 medium acorn squash (1 to 2 lb; smaller is better)
  • Several leaves of sage 
  • 1/2 onion, chopped 
  • 100 g salted butter/ 1 stick 
  • 250 ml/1 cup Prosecco or dry white wine 
  • 1,5  l/ 6.5 cups vegetable broth 
  • grated Parmesan cheese to taste

PREPARATION

For the acorn squash pulp:  Heat oven to 325° F.  Cut the squash into quarters and remove seeds and strings. Dab with 1/2 stick butter and sprinkle with sea salt and sage. Bake for an hour and 30 minutes until soft and beginning to caramelize. After baking remove the sage, scoop out the pulp and blend into a puree with salt to taste. 

Acorn squash

Acorn squash

For the Prosecco Parmigiano sauce: gently sauté the shallot in ½ stick butter for about 5 minutes. Add the Prosecco, bring to a boil and then simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the cream, Parmesan, salt and pepper. In the end, lower the heat and stir until the sauce thickens.

For the risotto: sauté the onion and butter in a casserole and in a separate pot, heat the broth. Add the rice to the butter mixture and let it toast for a few minutes while stirring. Then add the Prosecco and let it evaporate while stirring slowly. Proceed by adding a ladle of hot broth and let it simmer until it has been absorbed by the rice.

Repeat this process until the rice is cooked (about 25 minutes). When the risotto is cooked, add the squash puree, saffron and Parmesan cheese; stir until creamy, adding a dab of butter if necessary. 

Lastly, serve on individual plates garnished with the hot Parmesan sauce. Enjoy your Pumpkin Risotto!

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Packing for Italy – a guide

Visitors are coming back to Italy and we could not be more excited!

Traveling is always a great experience, but the prelude of every journey can be difficult to overcome. Is my suitcase too heavy? Or is it too small? Did I pack everything I need? Will I need sunscreen, it’s September, why would I? And an umbrella? Italy is sunny, I don’t think I’ll need it. 

Packing your suitcase will set the standard for your holiday. If you packed everything right, it will be okay, otherwise things could get problematic. 

So, that’s why we are offering you the ultimate “Packing for Northern Italy” guide.

Climate in Italy is very diverse and the weather in south Italy has almost nothing to do with weather in the center of the peninsula or in the North.

Poggio Verde is located in the area which is known as Brianza, the green lung near Milan. Brianza is very cool, figuratively speaking and literally speaking. We have creeks and rivers, high humidity, a lot of fog in Winter, breazy Spring, windy Fall and hot Summer, with a little bit more breeze in comparison to Milan or cities located in the Po plain. But, the weather here is also unpredictable. The clouds, especially in the lakes’ area, might decide they want to cover up the entire sky in a matter of minutes, and Summer storms happen from time to time.

People in Milan with umbrellas

Better bring an umbrella

Here’s what you should be packing for Northern Italy:

  1. Sunscreen and after-sun cream: Even in Spring, there is still the risk of sunburn, especially when visiting lake areas. Together with sunglasses, these two will be your best allies. If you plan to go hiking or visit some high altitude places, even a sun-protective chapstick could be necessary.
  2. Umbrella and wind jacket: In both Spring and Fall there is the chance of some good rain, and together with wind, the chances of having a rainy day during your visit, cannot be excluded. Pack a portable umbrella and a waterproof jacket to play it safe!
  3. Charger adapter: as you may have heard, Italy uses the Type L plug for most appliances, so be sure to pack an adapter for your chargers.
  4. Layers! Layerable clothes is always the best way to go when travelling, and for Italy is no exception. Be sure to bring a light scarf to protect yourself from the wind. Click here to find average monthly temperatures in nearby Lecco. 
  5. Euro cash and coins. You can change some cash at the airport upon arrival. Credit and debit cards are accepted by most stores but for small purchases, banknotes and coins are handy. One thing most foreign tourists don’t keep in mind is that euro coins are valuable: the €2 is worth $2.30!

Also be mindful of some cultural differences that not all tourists might be aware of.

  1. “Bar” is also the name we use for cafes, where you can have a snack or have breakfast
  2. Ordering a “caffé” or coffee in a bar, will result in an espresso, not a long American style coffee. You can also order a “macchiato”, espresso with milk, or a “decaffeinato”, a decaf espresso. 
  3. Tipping happens but is not an established practice. Waiters and waitresses will not expect you to be tipping, but it will not be refused in case it happens.
  4. Please stand on the right side on escalators. Milan is a hectic city, and there is the unspoken rule of standing on the right, leaving enough space on the left for people who are in a hurry.
  5. Avoid independent ATMs, such as Euronet or Cardpoint. They have ridiculously high fees and are scattered all over Milan and other major European cities. Opt for ATMs that are linked to a bank and be safe.

But the most important thing you need to bring with you on your trip to Italy is enthusiasm to enjoy our beautiful country the best way possible. 

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. The cities of Como and Brunate built it in 1894 to ease movement between the two. 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!”  

Pictures by: Judith Wencel and S. Bechi

Visit to Val Curone: La Costa & 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.