Yesterday (April 25) was a holiday here in Italy–Liberation Day, marking the day that the Allied troops liberated Italy at the end of World War II. Similar to our Veterans’ Day, there are often parades and political rallies but we chose to avoid the crowds and went instead into the mountains with some friends for a hike in the Valle d’Aosta region, just north of Piemonte where we live. It was a gorgeous morning, perfect for hiking…

We soon left the paved road and climbed up on a small path, passing several stone buildings…

…until we reached the snow-level in the mountains…

Up and back took us almost exactly four hours. I was thrilled to get four hours of great exercise in such a beautiful setting and definitely worked up a good appetite for dinner! However, I never suspected that we would then sit and eat for three full hours!

I’m pretty sure I ate more calories than I burned on the hike, especially since the meal we enjoyed was not your typical “Mediterranean diet” with lots of fruits and vegetables. Instead, our foods were typical of the peasant fare which was served in years gone by when these poorer mountain regions of Italy were very dependent on the foods they could produce locally. Their diets consists of lots of sausage and deli-type meats, such as this Brasaola and sausage we we were served as an appetizer…

After these meat appetizers, we ate a spinach and egg frittata (omelet), as well as another cheesey dish with bread and greens. (I stopped counting calories after this course.) Next came the choice of mashed potatoes with a thick slice of roast beef cooked in red wine or polenta with sausage and stew beef. My Good Husband and I choose the polenta…mashed potatoes were just too “everyday” for our delightful, rustic setting.

If you’re not familiar with polenta, I would describe it as comfort food at it’s best. It’s a thick cornmeal porridge which often has cheese stirred into it–typically either Parmesan, Gorgonzola or Fontina. Since I’m not too carnivorous, I like it just like that–with just cheese stirred into it. However, polenta is most often served–at least in this region of Italy–with cooked sausage or stew beef. It’s a great dish to make on a rainy spring day, and since the weather began clouding up, it was the perfect choice.

In the “old days’ polenta was common fare in the cold winter months in the mountains. It’s the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs and makes you want to settle in for a long winter’s nap. But it’s a great cozy choice on a rainy spring day too.

The “real deal” has to be simmered, and stirred frequently, for about 45 minutes. I only made that kind once, as I soon realized that the flavor wasn’t any better than the quick and easy three-minute variety. There are lots of types of polenta here in Italy, depending on the type of corn that is used…white, dark, yellow, etc. In the States, I just used common, everyday cornmeal to make it, though sometimes I’ve found brands specifically marked “polenta”. If you do find some cornmeal marked “polenta”, it is probably specifically ground for making polenta–rather than cornbread–and would be your best option.

After the polenta, they assumed we were still a bit hungry and hadn’t eaten enough calories so they came around with a wooden tray with about eight different types of cheese…

We could have as many and as much as we wanted! How I do wish that cheese wasn’t full of cholesterol! Oh well, another small glass of red wine would help me digest it…

I couldn’t tell you which cheese is which in this photo, but I know I chose a Fontina (which has one of the highest concentrations of fat possible!), and two types of Toma (a cheese particularly famous in this region). The soft cheese is a ricotta with pepperoncini (hot peppers). I liked all of them!

Lastly, we had two desserts which were just OK–a dry, apple tart and a ricotta and strawberry cake roll. I have to say, Italians have great food and great gelato, but Americans have the Italians beat on desserts! Maybe they’d like a couple of my dessert recipes!

So, we waddled to our cars, dozed off on the trip home, and tried not to think about how much we eaten but rather concentrated on what a wonderful holiday we had. A gorgeous hike in the mountains, time with friends, fresh air, and an Italian food experience!

For supper I ate an apple. And I’m still full!

Ciao!

Debbie

Creamy Parmesan Polenta

Yield: Serves 8; can easily be halved to serve 4

Creamy Parmesan Polenta

Ingredients

  • 8 C. (2 liters) boiling water or broth
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 C. (310 g) polenta (cornmeal)
  • 1 C. (40 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 T. (55 g) butter

Instructions

  1. Bring water/broth to a boil. Add salt.
  2. Pour the dry polenta into the water in a steady stream. If you stir polenta constantly, you will avoid having lumps.
  3. Cook, still stirring constantly, until the polenta thickens, 3-5 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and butter. Cover and set aside until the butter melts, about 2 minutes. Stir again before serving
http://ciaofromdebbie.com/blog/italian-food-facts/a-four-hour-hike-and-a-three-hour-dinner/

This recipe is on page 78 of Around Our Table.

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