Come join us on a fun, delicious Italian culinary adventure as we share a delightful day in Italy at the home of an authentic Cesarina!
If you haven't been keeping up with us, Scott and I are spending three weeks in France and have rented a small flat in the French Alps (near Chamonix) where we're residing for two weeks. We love hunkering down in one area when we travel, learning the local way of life by immersing ourselves in the culture and of course, exploring the cuisine of that area. With the Italian border being less than an hour from our French Alps home-away-from-home, I thought an Italian culinary adventure would be fun, in addition to featuring French cuisine.
What is a Cesarina?
I'd never heard the term Cesarina before I began doing research for this trip. According to Italy Magazine, "Cesarine is a term derived from a Romagnolo expression meaning ruler of the kitchen". The name has been reinvented by Cesarine, a company that offers authentic, in-home culinary classes all over Italy with seasoned Italian cooks. The classes often include a trip to the local market to choose the ingredients for the meal.
I was intrigued by this amazing-sounding opportunity and quickly signed up for one of these Italian culinary adventures. The communication with Cesarine was great and they made it clear (in English) how to get to the class and what to expect.
Yesterday was the big day. Scott and I hopped in our rental car and headed for Italy via the Mont Blanc tunnel. This amazing tunnel connects France and Italy and runs for 5 miles under the mighty Mont Blanc (pictured below), the tallest mountain in Europe (15,780 feet!). To me, it should be dubbed the 8th wonder of the world! Imagine building a 5-mile tunnel under the Alps!
Although I don't suffer from claustrophobia, it was VERY nice to see the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" along with the magnificent views of the Italian Alps.
Once we got through the tunnel, it didn't take long, following our GPS, to arrive and meet our Cesarina, Franca, in the small Italian valley village of St. Marcel. Franca's husband, Marcello, was there to assist her and we were whisked off (we had to laugh as Franca drives a Ford and our rental car is Italian-made, go figure!) for a short tour of a local company that makes Grappa (an Italian liquor).
The production of Grappa, made from the by-products of wine production was super interesting!
It's aged in barrels and then infused with just about any flavor you can imagine.
This same company also specializes in the production of Prosciutto crudo Saint Marcel, a delicious Italian ham that is infused with local mountain herbs.
After the tour, we went back to Franca's home and began the process of preparing a 5-course lunch.
The lunch started with Prosecco and a charcuterie board featuring local cheese and sausages, then an amazing soft Italian cheese appetizer drizzled with mint pesto and served with local herbed prosciutto. The next course was Franca's family recipe for Homemade Porcini Pasta (passed down from her grandmother) and finally, the main course, Italian Steak Tartare with Bagna càuda (a delicious anchovy, garlic-cream sauce) paired with Italian Rosé.
The final course was a beautiful blueberry semifreddo followed by fabulous Italian coffee served in tiny espresso cups.
After the wonderful lunch, we were pretty sure we wouldn't need to eat again for a l-o-n-g time!
Check out some fun pics we took as Franca prepared, and then we enjoyed the delicious lunch:
Franca preparing the homemade pasta dough.
Nosy-Rosy (that would be me) didn't want to miss anything!
Teamwork at its BEST!
Pasta, ready for the pot!
Our view at the table out onto Franca and Marcello's courtyard.
Franca set a pretty table while Mirtillo (blueberry, in Italian), the family cat, made sure everything was running smoothly!
A delicious way to start the meal! The red-hued sausage on the left is made with beets! So... good!
Everything was "favolosa", but one of the highlights of the meal was the mint pesto. Thinking it was traditional basil pesto, I took a taste and was surprised with the bright, fresh flavor, quite different from anything I'd ever tasted. I asked Franca about it and she said it was made from fresh mint.
She had prepared the pesto the night before our arrival, but when I was so curious about it (and drizzled it on just about everything except the dessert), Franca went to the kitchen and returned with a small jar of the vibrantly-hued pesto.
It wasn't originally intended to be part of the class but after lunch, Franca went to her small garden, cut some mint and prepared another batch of the mint pesto as Scott and I watched. It took less than 5 minutes and I couldn't believe that something so simple could have SO much flavor.
I started thinking of all the ways this pesto could be used... drizzled on chicken, shrimp, salmon, as a sandwich spread, as a dipping sauce for crusty bread, on a charcuterie board...
I knew you would love it too so, on the way home from our Italian culinary adventure, we stopped at the market and picked up a big bunch of fresh mint. The recipe will be coming up on the near horizon, so stay tuned. I'm calling it Franca's Fabulous Italian Mint Pesto.
Thanks, Franca! Arrivederci!
Thought for the day:
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
What we're listening to for inspiration: