Thursday, November 23, 2006

Autumn and things Italian

It’s autumn in London. The days have become shorter and my early morning strolls in Hyde Park begin in semi-darkness and end with a very reluctant sun peering through the sky.

There is a depressed greyness to this new season despite the bursts of autumn sunshine. Some days it is bitter and I have become fascinated by the thickness of people's shoes and the down coats that mark the new season's wardrobe. My Melbourne winter coat, so cosy back home, does little to shield me from the sweeping winds that haunt central London on its most autumn days.

Regardless of the weather, I always head towards the Italian Water Gardens to look out, across the balustrades and ordered formality of gushing water. The air is cold and even the ground is covered in the frost from the night before – it’s beautiful.

With autumn on my mind, I am inspired to cook an Italian beef ragu to warm the belly and embrace the depth and flavour of London’s cooler weather.

The recipe is easy enough – beef, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes and porcini mushrooms. Cooked for seven hours and served with a soft polenta, it’s the perfect way to celebrate the start of winter.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Gastronomic delights: a photo essay of the Salone du Gusto

Although a week has passed since my return from Italy, I remain passionate and excited about what I saw, tasted and savoured over my extravagant weekend in Turin.

So what impressed me?

The freshness of everything I tasted and sampled.

The artistry of the produce.

The commitment to retaining traditions of eating and the hertiage of food communities.

The ethics of eating and the concern for biodiversity.

The quality of the food.

The size of the Salone and the number of people who attended.

And finally, the Slow Food Movement itself - such an achievement. In a world that continually urges us to go fast, this is a movement that says go SLOW.

Sweet nothings in Turin

Not only is Turin home to the Salone du Gusto, it is also a city celebrated for its cafes, confectionery and chocolate. Saturday morning provides the perfect opportunity to explore the piazzas of Turin, so I head off in search of sweet pleasures.

First stop is La Stratta in the Piazza San Carlo. Long recognised as a master confectioner, the techniques of making sweet nothings has remained relatively unchanged for the last one hundred and fifty years.It’s easy to spot – the tourists clutter its doorway and stand mesmerised by the jewel-coloured boxes and sumptuous display of chocolate and sweets. Never has the saying “food for the eye” been more apt. Inside, the decadence of the window continues into a gilded and mirrored interior. The walls are lined with boxes of different shapes and sizes decorated with either Art Deco styled prints of Puccini Operas or maps of Turin. The boxes alone are worth having.

Walking further along Via Roma and Via Guiseppe Garibaldi gives me the opportunity to take in some of the local architecture and all importantly to do some tasting of Turin’s famous gelati. Chocolate is the theme of the day as I sample Baci with pear.

But it is Il Biceri that I am seeking – a chocolate shop that I have read about on the outskirts of Central Turin. With map in hand and sheer determination, I make my pilgrimage to what has been described as one of the best hot chocolates. I come close to not getting there – the frustration of my tourist map almost gets the better of me. But persistence is my second name and I smell my way to Il Biceri.

It is quaint café, small with a few lonely outside tables because of the cold. Inside, people stand waiting as those who have been lucky enough to have a seat cuddle their chocolates impervious to the crowd. These are hot chocolates to be savoured. I order at the bar. I say si to a question that is more Italian than English and await my pleasure.

My chocolate arrives, topped with cream. I sit nursing it; first allowing the cream to dissolve in my mouth before dipping my spoon further in to taste the chocolate. It is wonderful.I slowly stir the cream into the chocolate watching it change colour before taking my first sip. It is rich, luxurious, heavy. I sit like everyone else does. Impervious to everything except making it last.

Dinner will be small tonight or so I tell myself as I head back to Roma Gia Talmone near my hotel. My feet are killing me but the promise of a small buffet with a glass of champagne is too good to resist.

And besides, I am here to eat. To taste, smell and savour the slowness of Italy. And so I do.