A journey to Skokloster Castle, Sweden

Skoklosters slott

My journey to Skokloster Castle took place on a beautiful morning, during early Autumn season. At the Central Station, in Stockholm, I caught the train heading to Bålsta and then the bus for Skokloster. Travelling by train at first and then by bus was smooth and it took about 75 minutes to get to the final destination. Besides, it was the opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonderful view of green nature outside the window, while we were approaching to Skokloster.

Skoklosters slott
Skoklosters slott
Skoklosters slott

The majestic architecture in Baroque style is situated on a peninsula by the Mälaren lake, along the route between Stockholm and Uppsala. The idea of the castle was conceived and realized by Carl Gustaf Wrangel and his wife, Anna Margareta von Haugwitz, in the middle of the seventeenth century and, nowadays, the castle is considered an historical monument belonging to the Swedish Age of Greatness in Europe.

Entering the Skokloster Castle was like entering the history of Sweden, an amazing chapter bound to the finest expression of art represented by the well preserved life of ancient works of art present in it for centuries, such as collections of paintings, textiles treasures, precious furniture, silver and glass tableware, ceramics, artisan decorations, porcelain and majolica thousands of books and weapons.

After an exhaustive guided tour, I kept on visiting the castle and the surrounding area by myself. So, I enjoyed a long bucolic walk in the beautiful garden, among apple, chestnut and lime trees, visited one of the oldest churches in Sweden made of bricks and, in the end, I had a delicious tender roast beef, au gratin potatoes and some marinated vegetables by the small coffee bar in the rooms of the castle.

Skoklosters slott

I hope you enjoyed the reading and, of course, if you come in Sweden, the Skokloster castle is really worth a visit. Thank you

Garlic, a natural healthy ingredient for a very simple and tasty Italian recipe, ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’

   Hello! There is a soft breeze in the air that gently touches flowers, trees, foliage in the garden today and nature is in a mesmerizing dance of light. Small pink flowers of wild garlic (allium), resembling tiny bright cups among lush backgrounds of artichokes plants, softly move and humbly bend on their own thin long stalk in a gracious bow. Inspiration! I just came up with the idea of making an old recipe belonging to Southern Italy culinary tradition: ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’.

   As well as being one of the main and mostly used ingredients in gastronomy, garlic has also been known for centuries for its therapeutic benefits. Indeed, in the past, its intense taste was wonderfully much appreciated both as remedy and in the kitchen. Actually, it seems that in the old Egypt, the slaves, who built the pyramids, used to have garlic in plentiful quantities, in order to feel themselves stronger and healthier. What is more, it was found out that in the tomb of Tutankhamen, bulbs of garlic were there, perhaps in order to keep evil spirits far away.  Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine highly recommended garlic for its medicine benefits. Pliny the Elder in his well known Historia Naturalis made references to the garlic for its therapeutic qualities. In the Middle Age, physicians used masks stuffed with garlic to protect themselves from diseases. During the First World War, the garlic was widely used for disinfecting wounds carefully, when there was lack of conventional antiseptics. In addiction to all this, garlic is an excellent vasodilatator, since it lowers the blood pressure and it helps to prevent heart illnesses.

   If in the Chinese cuisine, garlic and ginger are considered the most important fragrances, both for the Indian and West cuisine, garlic adds taste to all different kinds of meat, fish and vegetables dishes. It is a privileged ingredient for the Mexican and South-American cuisine and also for the French cuisine, where it is possible to enjoy garlic fragranced butter, mayonnaise and soup.

 

spaghetti alla carrettiera

   As for the Italian dish, ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’, the traditional recipe specifically coming from Eastern Sicily and widely spread everywhere in Southern Italy with all its own variations, we can point at it as representative of simplicity, since, it is very easy to make and based on very few ingredients that mostly we have in our kitchens. At this proper, garlic is one of those ingredients that we use quite every day.

  First of all, chop fresh parsley and garlic and fry gently in some extra-virgin olive oil. Add rings of onion, hot pepper and a sprinkle of oregano. In the meanwhile, cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water. Even though it is a very simple recipe, the ingredients have been carefully chosen, for keeping the high quality of the dish. So, here we have artisan ‘spaghetti alla chitarra trafilati al bronzo’, which are excellent for their rough surface that holds all different kinds of condiments and they taste perfect when ‘al dente’. Drain the water (save just a little of it, in case you have to add later on in the cooking process) and pour spaghetti in the pan, where you fried chopped parsley and garlic. If spaghetti look dried, then add little of that water you saved before and keep on cooking shortly on high flame. In the end, after removing from the stove, serve spaghetti very warm with a sprinkle of fried golden breadcrumb and ‘buon appetito’!

 

A sinergy of events for celebrating Salento, as UNESCO candidate through an art conference in Galatina, historical corteges and dishes evoking tastes of an ancient gastronomy

Just few days ago, on Saturday April 1st, we had a cultural dip into the historical and art atmospheres of Salento, attending an interesting conference that took place by the ‘Gallerie Teatro Tartaro’ in Galatina, organized by the local Club for UNESCO. In details, the round table was about the precious ‘Orsiniani’ frescos situated in one of the most important Romanesque and Gotic art monuments in Apulia, the Santa Caterina d’Alessandria Basilica.

Galatina - Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

DSC_0596 at the conference

The architectural structure of the basilica was built during the second half of the 14th century on a preexisting church, which dated back to the 9th – 10th century, according to the will of Raimondello Orsini Del Balzo, prince of Taranto and Count of Soleto. The legend tells that the prince, back from the crusades, headed for a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai and, after stopping by the monstery for paying homage to the body of Santa Caterina D’Alessandria, in a daring way, brought one of her mummified fingers in Italy. The relic was mounted in a reliquary made of silver and nowadays it is still kept among the tresaures of the basilica. After Raimondello’s death, at the beginning of the 15th century,  his wife, Maria D’Enghien, Countess in Lecce, and her son, Giovanni Antonio, continued the works of patronage for the basilica in Galatina and for the magnificent three architectural ordered spire in Soleto, by calling together artists from different painting schools in Italy and expert workers.

DSC_0613 raimondello's tower

The audience at the conference welcomed with great attention the magistral lesson of eminent art experts and researchers in an almost mystic silence and sometimes with expressions of dilightful astonishment. Among the speakers: prof. Maria Stella Calò Mariani (University of Bari), Antonella Cucciniello (director of the Royal Palace in Naples), prof. Anna Trono (politic-economic geography – Unisalento), prof. Luigi Manni (researcher), prof. Rosario Coluccia (linguist and academician from ‘Accademia della Crusca’)

DSC_0602 at the conference

On Sunday morning, April 2nd, a historical cortege took place in Soleto, a small center that is only few kilometers far from Galatina, where it is possible to contemplate both the beautiful spire of Raimondello and sometimes you have also the chance to visit the tiny precious church of Santo Stefano, an authentic work of art for its decorated walls with sacred scenes.

DSC_0656 historical dress up

DSC_0661_1 historical dress up

The historical cortege of Maria D’Enghien advanced slowly along the narrow paved streets of the old center to the roll of the drums and both the local people and the visitors from the neighbouring towns and villages could admire the refinement of the dresses, worn with elegance and style. Attending the event was an invitation to read a bit more about the local history and its characters.

DSC_0628 historical dress up

DSC_0634_1 historical dress up

DSC_0630 historical dress up

DSC_0683 historical dress up

Grown-ups and children showed great care in performing the historical cortege of Maria d’Enghien and later on, it was amusing to watch all of them playing and having fun, cheered on by families and friends. In the end, even some parents joined the games.

DSC_0747 historical dress up

In the afternoon, the cortege was in Galatina, where a lot of people gathered by the door of the old town hall and most of them followed the sumptuously dressed characters in a sort of procession that ended in Piazza San Pietro, the main square, where more games, a banquet reserved to the cortege, music and dances took place.

DSC_0760 historical dress up

DSC_0866_1 historical dress up

Along the way, people could stop by a banquet accurately prepared by some students of the Istituto Alberghiero ‘Aldo Moro’ from Santa Cesarea Terme (Ascalone Giorgia, Rizzo Pierpaolo, Scrimieri Luca, Pagliara Chiara, Murrone Angelo) and their teacher (prof. Piero D’Urso) and try delicacies that had tastes and fragrances of the Middle Ages cuisine. (Both of the two pictures have been kindly provided by Club for Unesco – Galatina)

IMG_5216

IMG_5214

Many thanks for the remarkable commitment and all we can wish for this amazing cultural initiative is to be performed again at Summertime, when more and more people, both locals and those coming from abroad on holiday, will be glad to attend it.

Apulia, its unusual white dress of fluffy snow and a warm vegetable soup that tastes of simple life!

The Epiphany weekend is already behind us and Apulia region, mostly characterized by mild temperatures, even at winter time, like other places in Southern Italy, is extraordinarily wearing a white dress of fluffy snow in these days. Indeed, it is almost unusual to taste arctic weather and contemplate snowy landscapes, which are more typical of Northern European Countries, right in the small baroque styled towns and Mediterranean countrysides that cover the South of Apulia. There, the presence of the snow is attested only in very rare occasions in the years. Perhaps, according to the perspective of a very young child, who has never seen the snow before and watches it with amazed eyes for the first time, it represents a small gift under the Christmas tree: ‘NEVE’, that is the Italian noun for ‘SNOW’ and it will be associated by the child to the cold, light, white, tiny ‘thing’ from the first moment in his life he experienced it on. The silent snowing in the night, the bright sky and view during the day, the sound of walking steps deeping in the cold soft carpet along the narrow, winding streets of small centers, everything calls for new explorations of ancient corners forged in the tender honey shaded stones and snow.  After taking a long walk and wondering about the amazing beauty of nature, seen in tiny snowflakes, perhaps a good soup, to warm our bones, would be very welcome! The cosy space by the fireplace looks very inviting in these days and it reminds of older ages, when the ladies of the family daily cooked simple meals in those typical local pots on embers. So, I took homegrown peas from the freeze, (a taste of Spring season even at Winter time is an authentic bliss!) and prepared a cream for warm bruschettas as appetizer and a spicy cauliflower and barley soup (of course you may opt for spelt or rice, for example) as main dish. Here there are some suggestions:

  • Fry gently peas in extra virgin olive oil with onion, a hint of garlic, tiny cubes of speck (from Alto Adige), salt and pepper. Add little vegetable bouillon, keep on cooking by letting the bouillon to evaporate a little and add leaves of mint when peas are soft. Make a smooth cream by using a hand blender and serve it on slices of warm bread and goat cheese.
  • As for the soup, cut the cauliflower in small pieces and make it slightly golden in extra virgin olive oil with rings of onion. Add tomatoes, a hint of garlic, a mashed boiled potato (of course it depends on the proportions of your soup) and then let simmer gently in vegetable bouillon until it will be a bit creamy. Right at the end, add the barley (already boiled) and a tea spoon of a typical spicy ricotta cheese (made of sheep milk and with a very strong spicy taste), which represents a delicacy and very ancient tradition for ‘poor’ gastronomy in Apulia region. Cook for little while more in order to combine and get flavour. Serve the soup in a bowl and a sprinkle of chopped parsley on its surface. Choose your wine and … Buon Appetito!

children-and-snow

A small timballo of aubergines for this first October weekend

   Hello, a nice weekend to you all! October was announced this morning by good weather and mild temperatures. On this occasion, I would like to introduce a recipe that my mother taught me when I was a child; indeed, it comes from my culinary memories at Summer holidays, best time for learning how to cook! So, today, the recipe to dedicate to the first weekend of the new month will be a small ‘timballo’ made with aubergines.

   Looking back very briefly at history and at the long tradition of this amazing vegetable, which has its origins in India and perhaps is 4000 years old, ancient docs attest its arrival in Italy during the Middle Age, but it is only in the 17th century, through the great work of spreading and promotion of the religious Carmelite Order that the aubergine is finally appreciated in Southern Italy at first and then all over Europe. From then on, the aubergine has come one of the main ingredients of the Italian cuisine. During the WWII, it is common among shepherds and peasants to use even the leaves of the aubergines, by drying them in the sun for making cigarettes and sigars to smoke instead of tobacco, since this latter was not available by that time of history.

   Back to our recipe, dice an oval black skinned aubergine in small cubes (please, do not peel it, since its skin has relevant healthy benefits for pancreas and guts, whereas the pulp is rich in fibers, potassium, phosphor and calcium, vitamin A and C). Then, in a large pan on the stove (medium temperature), pour some extravirgin olive oil and let it to get warm. As soon as the oil starts lightly hissing, add chopped onion, scallion, a tiny idea of garlic, three or four cherry tomatoes, a couple of pieces of lemongrass and mix all together. In the end, add the diced aubergine and keep on cooking all ingredients together. Pour little white wine and a sprinkle of thyme, majoram, bay, hot pepper. Since the aubergine has a spongy pulp, I would suggest to add more extravergin olive oil in case the aubergine seems too dry. Any way, by adding a sprinkle of salt, the aubergine will release some water since this vegetable is made 90% of water. Keep on cooking until it becomes smooth and almost creamy. Then, out of the stove, pour the mixture in a bowl and leave it for some minutes to get cooler. Add one egg, grated parmigiano, some breadcrumb to make the mixture thicker, parsley and small pieces of speck from Alto Adige  (the fragrance of it will be particularly tasteful with the aubergine).

   Next step is to grease a terracotta mould for timballo with few drops of extravirgin olive oil and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Pour the mixture in it and bake for about 15 mins (moderate temperature, about 200° C) until the surface becomes golden and crispy.

    Serve it warm, perhaps with some julienne vegetables, or, even better, add a couple of spoons of warm tomato sauce, it will taste delicious!

Buon Appetito 

Beetroot cream: a simple recipe for inviting appetizers. Have a try!

Hello! Sometimes, when I’m in Stockholm I enjoy to visit the Saluhall  in Östermalm, the ancient food market built in 1888. There is a nice cosy atmosphere and people may sit and have a meal or look for special food and delicacies. Since I like trying recipes, once I bought some fresh beetroots and Chèvre cheese and, at home, I prepared a light tasteful cream for appetizers. 

  • First of all, it is necessary to peel and steam the beetroots to get them softer. Then, chop and fry them very gently in extra virgin olive oil just for few minutes. In the pan, you may also add rings of red onion, scallion, very little lemon grass, salt & pepper. Right at the end, a sprinkle of parsley and some pine nuts are the perfect tasteful touch for the recipe. Perhaps you might serve a small portion of it as salad. Better if it is warm, indeed, you will find that its flavour is delicious !

  • Next step, make a cream of all ingredients with a mixer.

  • Or add crème fraîche to all ingredients and then process with the mixer.

Sourdough rye crispbread and rosemary flatbread are perfect for spreading this velvety delicacy on. 

I may suggest some pine nuts on top of one version of the appetizer and small pieces of Chèvre cheese and parsley on top of the other.

I hope you will enjoy the taste and wish buon appetito!

Have a good week.

Mandel potatoes and kantarellen for a warm fluffy sformato: genuine ingredients in a pot!

   In Stockholm, from Spring to Autumn season, at the weekend, from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm, it is nice to have a walk for visiting the local farmers market in Katarina Bangata, in the nearby of Götgatan. Small, sometimes improvised and graciously decorated stalls are all along a pedestrian area in the heart of Södermalm, set like colorful, natural gems in a crown made of high trees and their own light, dancing foliage. People enjoy meeting old friends and neighbourghs, talking and tasting what farmers prepare and offer them. It’s a feast of flavours for any palate: there is a plenty of local cheese, jams, fresh bread, corn, kale, inviting salami and sausages, pickled herrings, salmon and different kinds of sauces.   

‘Help yourself’, a friendly lady invites me to choose some mandelpotatis: suddenly, a recipe peekaboos in my mind and… yes, I will add kantarellen. Indeed, in this farmers market, you can see little hills of kantarellen here and there and, perhaps, this might be the reason why you can also smell a good fresh fragrance like being in the wood. Scallion, onion and eggs and then let’s go home for baking a fluffy ‘sformato’.

   We can start by steaming our mandelpotatis, it will take only few minutes. In the meanwhile, let’s fry gently, in extravergin olive oil, some chopped onion, scallion, our flavored kantarellen, salt, pepper, origan, rosemary and, right at the end, we will add also small cubes of Culatello di Zibello DOP…mmm…indeed, the fragrance of Italy pairs so well with Swedish kantarellen!

   As second step, mash the mandelpotatis and add some drops of extravirgin olive oil, a generous sprinkle of parmigiano, breadcrumbs, and one egg to make the mixture thicker. Then, in a pot, greased with butter, pour a half of the mixture. Make a second layer with the cooked kantarellen, scallion, onion and the small cubes of Culatello di Zibello, add slivers of provola piccante and a new layer of the mandelpotatis mixture. One more sprinkle of breadcrumb and few drops of extravirgin olive oil on top. Place the ‘sformato’ in the oven 200° C for about 10 minutes, or at least until the surface will be golden and crispy. Serve it warm. 

   In the end, I would toast to a friendly table by raising a glass of Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay, a fresh, young wine with notes of fruity aromas and light mineral.

   I wish everybody ‘Buon Appetito’. 

Sunday Recipe: Spaghettoni and Cauliflower Cream, the Light Taste of Summer in the Dish

The beginning of Summer is officially round the corner and the weather is a bit bizarre sometimes, any way everything looks more limpid in front of our eyes and we inhale fresh air for reinvigorating in body and soul. The rain is also a blessing for plants that gratefully share their daily ration of nourishment. Lively voices of young children, who play in the small squared garden, and those of grown-ups, who lazily sat on the benches, entertaining themselves in small conversations with their own neighbours, come and go out of the open windows. In the kitchen, as music background to sip slowly like a persistent and tannic ruby wine, a soft ‘Mediterranean Sundance’, magistrally played by the guitars of Paco de Lucìa and Al di Meola, becomes the authentic frame for our Sunday recipe. In the fridge, a small cauliflower peekaboos everytime the door is open, so it might be a good idea to cook it and prepare a nice sauce for our spaghettoni.

Let’s make a vegetable bouillon with carrots, selery, onion and tomatoes: chop everything and start gently frying in extravergin olive oil for two or three minutes, then add also some water and let boil. Again, cauliflowers will go in the boiling water until they will have a soft consistency and the bouillon will be reduced. Then, mash the cauliflowers and make a velvety cream by using the minipimer. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper and melt small pieces of cheese with the fragrance of truffle in the cream. At this proper, for this occasion, I have used  Castello® white with truffle, it has an excellent taste. Besides, it is necessary to underline the fact that there is no crème fraîche in the recipe and this means that each taste is enhanced in a natural and lighter way.

Cook Spaghettoni for the right time suggested on the package, in order them to be cooked ‘al dente’ and, after having strained them, serve on a plate with a couple of spoons of cream and thyme for decoration of the dish. By the way, check whether it is necessary to add some water from the cooking process of pasta: in this case, it might not be necessary, since the cream has been prepared with bouillon and it should be moist and velvety. The taste is really good and it is worth to try.

I hope everybody can enjoy this recipe and wish a good start for the new week!

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A Sunday Walk into Beauty and Autumn Fragrances

Fragrances and beauty of Nature on a Sunday walk

In the light mist of a mild Autumn Sunday morning, I joined a couple of friends, Emanuela and Totò (founders and CEO of ‘Avanguardie’ environmental studio and expert guides) and a large group of trekking excursioners. Our 3 hours walk today was up on a hill, in the heart of Apulia region and Salento countryside. Soon, we stepped in a forest and had a dip into an atmosphere made of overflowing energy and tastes of fluttering Mediterranean fragrances.The light danced through the soft swaying of tall pines and just little later, it was amazing to see how the steppe,the forest again and then Mediterranean landscapes alternated one to an other until we walked along an ancient Roman path that took the group to the final destination, the rural architecture of ‘Le Stanzie’.
Besides,it was interesting to listen to the accurate explainations of doctor Marcella Saponaro: the fascinating narration about ancient myths bound to the natural world and plants; on natural remedies and, in particular, about the range of plants we met along the path; the healthy benefits of essential oils, when wisely prescribed by professionals. Oil of cedar wood, for example: one drop of it on each knee and one drop under the feet can help the balance and stability during the trekking training.

Hope you all had a nice weekend!