Food, Life and Love

Feeling the Val d’Aosta Love

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For the past week I had the opportunity to travel with 27 other people as we explore the food, drink, passion and tradition of the Val d’ Aosta region in Italy. The smallest region in Italy filled with proud residents wanting and willing to open their hearts and kitchens to you. The landscape itself has a beauty even in the harsh edges and climate of the Alps. These massive mountains have somehow softened the habitants and we were greeted with the warmest of hospitality at every stop. On Tuesday we went to the Eremese Pavese winery, a small producer creating  wine with the indigenous Prie Blanc grape. A sparkling, a still and an ice wine make up this portfolio. The bottles are adorned with beautiful labels drawn by a family friend that showcase the members of this small family. The ice wine is named after the daughter Ninive. The still wine is named after the son Nathan and the sparkling carries the surname Pavese.

While tasting this wonderful wines the wife of the winemaker shared with us a traditional Aosta meal. We started with charcuterie made by the winemaker and his father, there was cheese from local producers, and then we went to polenta. Polenta is a regional staple that we had quite often that week but this time it was different.  This one was served with an incredible rich sausage like stew. It was warming, comforting, and filling. It was clear why this dish had graced many tables in the cold winter months. You could taste that this recipe had been made many times and has become almost a reflex for the person making it in the kitchen. Ermese’s wife reminded me of so many females I have seen, in so many places around the world. We all know this iconic woman, the one filled with passion for feeding those around her. The woman who cooks from the heart not from a recipe but from the wisdom passed down over generations. The women who cooking is as natural as breathing. She embodies hospitality and her food is just an extension of her love and the kitchen an extension of her.

After eating, she sat and shared with us recipes. Even through a classmate translator, you could sense the passion and pride. She didn’t have exact measurements, the recipe had become innate but she gave me the overall idea of the dish and the ingredients. I hope I captured the essence of this recipe, I have consulted the internet for suggested measurements… but you will have to add your own love and if all else fails, remember, practice makes perfect.

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Polenta Fricando:

2 lbs of Sausage (preferably something your husband made)

Small piece of deer (optional, and only if your neighbor brings it by that day)

1/2 an onion

1 large carrot

2 celery stalks

1 bottle, white wine (preferably your family wine)

2 slices cured lard

little flour

Cloves

sage

Salt and pepper

Mince the onion, celery and onion and sauté them in lard. Cook the onion until transparent over slow heat. Add the sausage and lightly brown. Deglaze the pan with a bit of the wine. Add the rest of the wine, sage and clove. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about an hour and a half or more, adding broth a little at a time if need be. You can, if you want, thicken the juices by sifting a little flour into the dish shortly before it’s done and stirring well. Finish with salt and pepper.
Serve over polenta in a wine cellar with 27 of your newest friends while in the middle of the alps. (Ok so the setting isn’t crucial but it sure helps)
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