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

The apple orchards around Gripsholm Castle

There is a wonderful flourishing nature around Gripsholm Castle. A good chance while visiting the castle, during Autumn season, is to enjoy the view of beautiful apple orchards in the area.

Glass Art in Skansen, Stockholm

Springtime will come soon and a visit at Skansen, the ancient park museum in the open air, is amongst the recommended things to do if you are in Stockholm. Of course, you can’t miss to have a look at the gracious little artisan lab, which is just few steps from the escalator, for enjoying watching and see how skilfull hands of excellent artisans bring glass art to life. 

Autumn and its culinary poetry: the light taste and seasonal ingredients for a homemade lasagna

   It is time to welcome the Autumn season and its very distinctive fragrances, its amazing natural landscapes made of warm shades and golden foliage! There is a world filled with inspiration in Albert Camus’s quotation, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”, which makes you long to wander, at the week-end, through the woods and countryside paths of Apulia, for rediscovering those familiar places, where you know you can find those peculiar, seasonal ingredients for your kitchen. September mild temperatures, a bit more of humidity and little rain, from time to time, become the elements for the growing of new little plants of wild chicory, for example, that is one of the main ingredients of the homemade lasagna I’m going to prepare. It was a long time ago when I made this recipe for the first time and every year, by the arrival of the Autumn season, I enjoy to make it again and again.

   So, I start with making lasagna pasta, by using local organic Senatore Cappelli durum wheat (it is excellent for homemade cooked ‘al dente’ pasta). For about 4 portions, you will need about 250 gr of flour and some water for making into a mixture that you need to work very well by hands, in order to be compact and not sticky. Perhaps, you may help yourself, by adding a sprinkle of flour on the surface of it. What is more, in Apulia, we do not use eggs in the pasta mixture, since it does not belong to our local culinary tradition of ‘cucina povera’; on the other hand, dishes are lighter and more digestible when using only water. Once the pasta mixture is well done, you can use your traditional nonna papera pasta machine for making thin layers of pasta; then, leave them to get dried.

   In the meanwhile, boil some water in a pan, add and cook the cleaned wild chicories (about 500 gr) for few minutes. Strain the chicories very well and add them in a pan with some extra virgin olive oil, small cubes of bacon, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 

   Prepare your béchamel sauce, firstly by working a couple of spoons of (semola) flour and some cold milk (between 250 ml and 350 ml – it depends on the consistency you prefer for the sauce) together in a saucepan, by melting all the lumps, add a sprinkle of salt, an idea of hot pepper, grated nutmeg. Secondly, put the saucepan on a small stove and a very moderate heat and start steering the spoon in order the flour does not stick on the surface of the saucepan. Then, as soon as the sauce starts slowly boiling, keep on steering just for little while more until it is well done but not too much thick, since the lasagna requires it be not too much thick. In the end, melt a knob of butter in the saucepan and some grated goat cheese.

   Now, before starting to prepare lasagna, it is necessary to cook the layers of pasta for very little moments, perhaps a couple of minutes, into boiling salt water. Strain the layers and make them dry on a cotton napkin, then, grease a baking pan with butter or few drops of extra virgin olive oil. Start fixing layers of pasta, then add small spoons of béchamel, a layer of chicories and bacon, one more of fresh mozzarella and then keep on doing again with a layer of pasta etc, until you have filled the bakery pan. A sprinkle of goat cheese on top and then place it in the oven 250° C for about ten minutes. When the mozzarella is melt and the surface of pasta appears little grilled, you can remove the lasagna from the oven and wait only few moments before making portions and serving them in the plates. 

   Pair the lasagna with your preferred wine and ‘buon appetito’!

 

 

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’!

 

Cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc… Celebrating last days of Carnevale season with a typical ancient dessert that takes you around Italy

Carnival is at the end of its season and, in Italy, we like to celebrate it by preparing a well known light dessert, which has many different names, according to the region we visit, and perhaps it has its roots in the ancient Roman festivities called “frictilia”. 

The recipe is simple and it doesn’t take too long for preparing this fragrant delicacy at home. Of course, the recipe for making cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere can be slightly different from a place to an other in Italy or even among families. The ingredients that follow belong to the traditional recipe that in my family they have been using for years. It is always a lovely feeling to open that old, turned yellow exercise book, where my aunt Lucia diligently took note of her recipes: some of them were expression of our local culinary tradition, some others were the fruit of her experiences in the kitchen and some more were found on old fashion magazines. 

Ingredients: 

  • 500gr. wheat flour
  • n.2 eggs
  • n.2 spoons of sugar
  • 50 gr. butter
  • a sprinkle of salt
  • a bit of anise
  • a bit of white wine

Mix all together and work the mixture until it is well done, then cover it with a kitchen napkin and leave it to rest for a couple of hours. After this, make a sheet of pastry that should be a couple of millimeters thick (you may use your rolling pin or your Grandma Duck for making homemade pasta). Once you have made graceful ribbons (call them cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc) from the stripes, fry them deep into peanut oil until they are fragrant, golden and crisp. Dust icing sugar on their surface. At this point, (according to my personal taste and inspired by typical Swedish pastry – making confectionery that is well known for the use of a range of fragranced spices) a tiny suggestion to this inviting afternoon snack might be a light variation to the traditional recipe, that is by adding also a sprinkle of cardamom or of the spice you prefer at best. Serve this light dessert with your coffee or tee and enjoy a beautiful Mardi Gras!

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 plant of basil in the kitchen

5.30 in the morning and the bells announce the new day, it is Friday and soon it will be Christmas, they sing. In the kitchen, the moka machine gurgles and the fragrance of coffee expands everywhere. It is sunrise and out of the window the sky is becoming brighter and brighter. I sip slowly my cup of coffee and look at a small gift I have received last night, when I went for food supplies: it is a small plant of basil, the only one they had in the store, which the seller gave me as present. I noticed that they had recently given it some water, since there were few drops on the leaves. So, once at home, I delicately tamponed and wiped away that water from the leaves with a paper napking and poured some drops of water under the vase. In this way, I hope the plant will grow up a little stronger by getting its nutriment spontaneously in its own more balanced natural environment. To me, the presence of a little plant of basil, at hand, in a corner of the kitchen, perhaps to place where it can daily enjoy the day light, is always very welcome. I can smell its fragrance and, of course, as Italian, I love to add little fresh leaves on top of the dish when I prepare my pasta al pomodoro. Now, it is time to wish a good day to you all!

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 

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’.