Posted in Events & Adventures in Food

Asti, Rapallo & Portofino (Sacla Blogger Trip 2012)

 As a guest of Sacla I expected to see basil growing in the fields and to taste some really good food, what I didn’t expect was to feel like I was a VIP on holidays.
A group of 9 Irish based food writers, bloggers and journalists embarked on what – for me anyway – was a trip of a lifetime.  A whirlwind visit saw us arriving into Milan and journeying to the Sacla headquarters at Asti where lunch awaited us.  Naturally this was made based on a variety of Sacla products and it was made extra special being cooked for us by chefs from the Michelin awarded Ristorante Vittoria.

Chef Massimiliano of Ristorante Vittoria
Chef Massimiliano of Ristorante Vittoria
Orecchiette with Spicy Roasted Pepper Pesto and Ricotto by Vittoria restaurant
One of the several delicious courses cooked at Sacla by the chefs of Ristorante Vittoria

And what does one do on a trip like this after an indulgent lunch?  Well you rest of course!  Perhaps a brief siesta on your four poster bed at Villa Tiboldi or a swim in their magnificent private pool or then again you could go for a gentle stroll and capture images of fruit laden trees, pretty flowers and rolling fields of vines.

one of the residences at Villa Tiboldi
one of the residences at Villa Tiboldi
Residence at Villa Tiboldi
…& another

Pool at Villa Tiboldi

Flowers at Villa Tiboldi
fruit on the trees at villa tiboldi
fruit laden trees at villa tiboldi

With renewed stamina our next activity was to participate in a casual yet professional and informative wine tasting of 8 of Villa Tiboldi‘s Malvira wines. (While spittoons were provided I assure you I did not waste a delicious drop.)
View of rooftops from the rooftop of Villa Tiboldi
grapes at Villa Tiboldi
Wine Tasting Malvira at Villa Tiboldi
Malvira wines at Villa Tiboldi
A quick shower under one of those massive Victorian style shower-heads saw me refreshed and dressing for a delicious al fresco dinner with yet more opportunity to savour the magnificent Malvira wines.  Returning to bed at midnight I went to sleep with a smile of glee as I stretched out on my four poster bed luxuriating in 8 hours of undisturbed, blissful sleep.

My room at Villa Tiboldi
My room at Villa Tiboldi

Attempting to keep things light at breakfast I started off well with the ripest juciest fresh apricot smothered in yoghurt and dusted with granola but resistence was weak and two more visits to the buffet table were mentally justified with the knowledge that such an opportunity would not be presenting itself at home.  To quote a grandmother ’tis either a feast or a famine’ and this was one of those times to feast.
Our first departure of the new day saw us arrive at the farm of the Amateis family to witness the first cut of basil destined for Sacla pesto and to experience the heady high as that fragrance wafted on the barely moving warm air.

First cut of basil for Sacla 2012
First cut of basil for Sacla 2012 using the Amateis brothers’ customised machine

Harvesting basil at Amateis farm for Sacla 201
Returning to the pristine farmyard, a long table heaving with fresh focaccia, cheeses, meats and fruits awaited us for yet another al fresco dining experience, this time in the company of the Amateis brothers who were generous hosts indeed.
If this were your post and I was reading it I think at this stage I might be crying STOP, no more, but brace yourself and read on.
A bus journey saw us weaving coastward until we arrived at the gem that is Rapallo and to a view from a room  at the Excelsior Palace Hotel that yet again left me stuck for words.

Room with a view Palace Excelsior Hotel Rapallo
Room with a view Palace Excelsior Hotel Rapallo

A respite to the pool and a stroll around the town was enjoyed before dressing for dinner.
As if the splendour of Rapallo wasn’t enough we boarded speedboats and followed the coastline stopping off to admire and breathe wistfully at the site of Dolce & Gabanna’s Villa and maybe not so wisfully at Berlusconi’s! (If you want to completely torture yourself click on the D&G link above to view the interior).  Up on lofty heights the famous Hotel Splendio was spied as we made our way in to alight at Portofino.
Manipulating a cobbled street in wedge heels I managed to make my way the short distance from boat to bar still upright where delicious champagne bellinis set the tone for the evening.  Indulging a while in people spotting and nibbling morish bites which could have fortified us for the evening our journey was coming to a close but not yet over.
Bellini time at Portofino
Tasty Tomatoes
Nibbles at Portofino
Our last stop (well if you don’t count the hotel bar) was for a magnificent dinner of simple dishes at restaurant o Magazin.  Pesto pasta came before bream and potatoes with olives and oil followed by tiramisu.
Dinner is served Bream at o Magazin restaurant Portofino
The precious heads of our group of 9 arose early with an average of 3 hours sleep and journeyed very quietly back to the airport for our flight home.
The luxury of indulgence has been replaced with a slow slide back to what is my norm.  The moments that I linger now are to peruse growing cracks over slammed doorframes (teenagers – not me, honest) and I’ve settled once again into this bustling hive with bees that  sporadically sting.
I can dive in every so often though to revisit those stillframe mental images I’ve forever captured of how the other half live.  That lady emerging laden from the Missoni boutique in Portofino and those sharply dressed gentry looking folk strolling casually  or alighting from private yachts, to name a few .  And it may have only been for a few days but yeah baby I was part of that too. La dolce vita.
Til next time,

Posted in What's for Dinner Mom?

Pasta alla luce del sole

No, that doesn’t mean pasta that is good for the soul but hopefully translates to mean ‘Pasta in the light of the sun.’  I’ve googled it and haven’t seen a recipe with this name yet so it’s mine, all mine, an original.  2012 is looking like a very exciting year for me with the publication of my recipe book ‘Gimme the Recipe‘ with Mercier Press in March and the remainder of the year is peppered with various family celebrations throughout the year the highlight of which will be my sister Eimear’s wedding in Sicily in August.  I’ve even started learning Italian.
Pasta alla luce del sole
In the meantime I have been conjuring up a taste of Italy at home and I’ve been helped along by Sacla’ who very kindly sent me a selection of their vast range of pasta sauces etc.  to try out.  I’d been eyeing the jar of Sun-dried Tomatoes for a while anticipating the release of their lusciousness and in this recipe they more than lived up to all my expectations.
With tomatoes and balsamic being a classical pairing this dish revolves around that with any zinginess being balanced out with the creamy coating of creme fraiche.
As the days begin to lengthen and brighten this dish is one of longing. It is a taste of sunshine and summer with fruity sweetness bursting in your mouth mingling with refreshing bitey courgette.  It is important not to over-cook the courgette, it gets just a minute on each side – just long enough to lightly colour it and mop up some succulent bacon juices from the pan but still retain its crunch.
This is the first time that I have ever weighed out pasta before I’ve cooked it, usually judging with my eye.  75g (the recommended portion size on the pack) X 4 being 300g looked meagre on the scales but as I wanted this dish to err on the healthy side, bulking it up with extra courgette, I denied the temptation to throw in a fistful or two more of pasta.  Rashers of bacon were modest in portion size too but enough to impart just enough fat and flavour to lean towards indulgent.  This is delicious.
Pasta with courgette, bacon, sun-dried tomatoes
Serves 4.
Pasta alla luce del Sole
You will need:

1 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers of bacon
300g pasta shells – conchigile
100g sun-dried tomatoes (I used two-thirds of a Sacla’ jar – drained weight)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 courgettes
4 tbsp creme fraiche
1 tbsp semi sun-dried tomato pesto (I used Sacla’ Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto )
Fresh parsley to garnish
Bring a large saucepan full of boiling water to the boil for the pasta
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan
Roughly chop the rashers and put them on to cook in the frying pan over a medium to high heat
Put the pasta shells into the boiling water to boil (follow cooking time of pack, it varies depending on size)
Once the rashers have begun to brown push them to the side of the pan, roughly chop the sun-dried tomatoes and place in the centre of the frying pan.
Spoon the balsamic vinegar on top of the tomatoes and stir them around a little as they cook for a couple of minutes.
Push the tomatoes out to the side of the pan and fry thick slices of courgette for a minute on each side.
(Meanwhile drain the pasta when cooked and drizzle with a little olive oil to prevent sticking)
Pour the creme fraiche on top of the courgettes and bacon etc. and mix, cooking until heated through.
Serve bowls of pasta shells topped with the creamy bacon, tomato and courgette mixture and garnish generously with chopped parsley.
Til next time, Sheila.