Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part II

A weekend away in Torino is made easier with these tips and ideas!

My little family recently had the good fortune to spend a long, sunny weekend in Torino, Italy falling in love with its character, people, food and culture. As promised, I said I would follow up our visit with a list of What To Do and What to Eat in Torino. Although we were a family travelling with two kids (5 and 8) and yet I can just as easily see many of the things listed here as being fun for couples, friends, etc.

Here we go!

What To Do:
With no end of things to do in Torino, everyone in your group from the sports fan to anciet Egypt fanatic will be pleased. While not listed, I challenge you to count the number of Fiat 500s you see rolling through the small streets of Torino. A local car to Torino, it has never looked better than in her hometown! 

Egyptian Museum/Museo Egizi0 di Torino

-Parco del Valentino (Excellent spot for a run, walk, picnic or kick around with a ball. You can rent bikes in the park and there are a couple little cafes selling sandwiches, beer and gelato, of course)

-Market at Porta Palazzo/Mercato di Porta Palazzo (Located at Piazza della Repubblica, this is Europe’s largest market with 800+ venders and seemingly endless stalls to cruise past. Everything from fresh fruits, meats, cheese, clothing, home appliances and take-away food are for sale here. It can be a bit overwhelming but it is worth a nose around)

-Run/walk/cycle along the Po River (The Po River is the longest river in Italy and sparkles beautifully through the heart of Torino).

-boat tour along the Po River (you can either take a cruise along the Po river – departures near Parco del Valentino – or rent a kayak to go at your own pace. Times and departures are weather and season-dependant so please do some research on this one before adding it to your list. It is HIGHLY worth a tiny bit of effort!)

-Eat (see below)

-visit the Royal Palace 

National Museum of Cinema (a very different take on a museum but worth a visit – located inside Mole Antonelliana)

Juventus Stadium (home to the Italian Champions League 2015-2016 winners Juventus F.C., the stadium is a must see for sports fanatics and soccer/football fans. There are daily tours and a Juventus museum located inside)

-Mole Antonelliana (the official monument of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, this impressive monument is also featured on the Italian 2cent Euro coin)

-Eat more (see below)

-Palatine Towers (remnants from the Roman era, the Palatine Towers or Palatine Gate are an architectural must-see)

-Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange (shopping district – think high street to higher end)

What to Eat:
Take note: avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Piedmontese cuisine is so fresh, varied and exciting that despite potential language barriers in understanding menus in Italian,  I promise whatever you order will NOT disappoint. Give in to the local flavours and try something new and exciting. I understand many people are upset about the idea of veal but I included it in this list as it is a very proud dish from this region and at least now if you ARE anti-veal, you know what to avoid on the menus (which are often not translated or poorly translated in the better restaurants).

-Risotto (the main ingredient in risotto, Aborio rice, hails from this region)

-Gelato (ice cream of the best quality and the most amazing flavours)

-Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna mayonnaise and capers)

-Antipasti (my favourites being misto-mixed antipasti and Tomini-creamy cheeses served with chilis)

-More gelato 😉

-Agnolotti (traditional meat stuffed ravioli)

-Cheeses (so many to choose from but I highly encourage that if the restaurant you are dining in offers a cheese plate, you should order it)

Good To Know:
To anyone that likes an early dinner, I’m afraid Italians aren’t prepared for this. Most places don’t start opening for dinner until 7:30-8pm. If you can’t deal with this, perhaps stop by somewhere and ask them if you can get snacks for aperitivo. This way you can satisfy your earlier need to eat without sacrificing on taste! 😉
The buses and trams in Torino are EXTREMELY easy to use and clear. We walked almost everywhere we went but took both bus and tram at other times to see things further afield.  We bought 2 day travel cards for sale at any tobacco shop / tabacchi (welcome to Europe, right?). These shops are easy to spot with the following on display outside each one.

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Tobacco / Tabacchi where you can buy your public transport tickets

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

 

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Perfecting Cheese Fondue

Cheese. Where do I even begin to explain my love for cheese!? At this point in my life, I think I would give up almost all other foods if I could live on cheese and not look like big old Brie! So, it should come as no surprise that life in Paris was pretty chock-full of cheese samples. I discovered new and amazing ones that I had never heard of before like Vacherin Mont d’Or. I also discovered some that even I couldn’t wrap my cheese-loving taste buds around (sorry to my beloved Kiwi and the ‘farm cheese’ she introduced me to). Then we relocated to Switzerland and the cheese boat I was cruising along got a welcome shake up. New names, new textures and new tastes…oh my!

So here we are. Knee deep into our new life in Switzerland where the nights are getting colder, the fireplace has been on a few times already and in this part of the world, the cheese sections at the markets and grocery stores have quadrupled in size.  I kid you not, on the first of October every store turned into an enabler for cheese-addicts everywhere. Fondue pots. Raclette machines. Recipes.  Samples. Pre-mixed cheese blends. Offers to discover for free ‘your perfect fondue blend’ screaming at me. MY PERFECT BLEND??? I couldn’t live another day without knowing what that meant! I NEEDED to know what my perfect blend was! Thus, I didn’t just dabble into this new Swiss world of fondue, I leapt. Head first. With a crusty baguette and fork in hand!

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Fondue pots on sale at the local post office!

I can now say after much consideration that I am a classic “moitié-moitié” person – half Gruyère AOP and half Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP. BLISS!

Such the fan that I have become, I have been perfecting making fondue moitié-moitié at home. The juniors and Mr H have not complained once 😉 Quelle surprise!  Thus I give you my person, and my perfect version, of moitié-moitié.

Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!
Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!

Cheese Fondue moitié-moitié

Serves 4

  • 400 grams of Gruyère AOP, grated
  • 400 grams of Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 300- 400 ml dry white wine (or you can use vegetable stock, alcohol-free wine, water or a mix of wine and other depending on your preferences)
  • 15g/1tbsp fécule (potato flour)
  • nutmeg
  • pepper
  • kirsch, optional (I prefer cherry)
  • day old baguette

Rub your fondue pot all over with the garlic clove. This seasons the pot lightly and is a step heaped in tradition which is considered crucial here in Switzerland. What you do with the clove after is up to you. You can either finely mince it up with a knife or a garlic press and use it in your fondue or leave it out. I use it. Life without garlic makes zero sense to me.

Next, mix your cheese and potato flour together in the pot. Add 300ml of the wine/stock and garlic, if using, and heat over a medium temperature (save the extra liquid to thin out your mixture if it is too thick). STIR CONSTANTLY. This doesn’t mean leave it for 10 mins and stir it. It means constantly. It doesn’t take long to melt down so don’t worry about hours spent slaving over the hob. Once the cheese has started to melt, I add pepper and nutmeg to taste. When all the ingredients have come together to form an amazing pot of melted bliss, add the shot of kirsch, stir and serve.

Now, fondue isn’t just dip bread and eat. You must know that you will have to stir constantly with a spatula throughout your meal. There are some social taboos on this, the one we have seen most consistently is to stir in a figure 8 pattern. NEVER stir when someone has their bread dipped, this is considered rude. One person dips at a time and doesn’t eat off of the long for but rather, slides their gooey cheesy bread onto their plate and eats with their own fork. Don’t double-dip. Ever.

Can you taste it?
Can you taste it?

Some household rules we have adopted include:

  • giving a kiss to someone at the table if you drop your bread into the pot
  • le coup du milieu which is basically a shot of kirsch taken at the midpoint (yes, a shot) to help aid the digestion of the cheese
  • the egg – before the fondue has melted all the way down to the bottom of the pot, crack in an egg and stir. It thins out the mixture, extends the life a bit and gives a new flavour boost to the mixture
  • la religieuse – I feel like my life wasn’t complete until I discovered la religieuse (translated into nun in English but let’s ignore that). At the end of the meal, 99% of the time when you have finished all the amazing fondue you are left with a golden brown crust. DO NOT THROW THIS OUT or pour water all over to soak it off. Instead, carefully, using just a normal butter knife or something similar, try to pry this off the bottom of the pan. You are left with a salty, crispy treat that ends the meal in a perfect way! YUM!
  • I serve with pickles/gherkins (not the sweet kind), a VERY large salad with vinaigrette and my family likes a plate of charcuterie such as salami, cured hams, etc. I don’t partake in that but to each their own!

So, that’s it. It isn’t complicated but it IS delicious!! Feel free to adapt and play with the recipe. That’s part of the fun here! Remember, though, this is a very heavy meal. It is rarely finished with dessert other than some fresh fruit or something else very light. Please, no chocolate fondue to finish the night off. Swiss heads would roll!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

Greetings from Switzerland!

Hello whirlwind!!

We are back in the land of cheese, chocolate, watches and cow bells to finish off some administrative work. Our appointment at the local commune (government office) for our Permis B (work and resident visas) went exceptionally well.  In fact, after a decade of French bureaucracy, I almost cried when the guy said, “Everything looks great, you can come back in July and pick up your permits.” Was that it?!? Weeks of nerves for efficiency and service?!? I almost kissed him!

We we have banking and schooling left to sort out but in the meantime, I leave you with some photos of our wanderings! Enjoy!

Centre ville – Morges
Au XXième Siècle – famous fondue restaurant in Morges
Mmmmmm pizza di bufala – La Rive
Alleyway in Morges
Canal linking la rivière Morges to Lac Léman
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Picking up after your dog gets you a BRAVO here! What a switch from Paris. We have seen countless dogs and no poop patches!! Yes!
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The juniors.
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Woohoo!!! Came across a women’s soccer team training!!!

Photos: Jennifer Hart

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Soupe à l’oignon gratinée

I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.

– Maya Angelou

What fun is life as an expat if you don’t indulge in the local cuisine? Before I jump into any recipes, I want to share with you my history with cooking and where my love of trying new ideas comes from. In thinking back to the start of my culinary ride, I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t cook. Sure I have had cooking fails over the years but I truly feel like my hands have been in the kitchen my entire life. I learned to make pretty complicated things at a young age (yes Dad, I’m referring to ‘could you whip up a lasagna for tonight?’ at 10 years old).  I learned kids basics, too: soup, Kraft Dinner (mac ‘n cheese for my American friends), pancakes, pizza dough, etc. I was always interested in what was going on in our kitchen. I tried some pretty fancy things, too, including learning how to make chocolate éclairs with my amazing Aunt H when I was still a kid. All of these early kitchen moments still stay with me and are quite noticeably tied to my life as a mother of two youngsters who both love to cook, as well.

In 1996 I registered to become a Chef Apprentice under the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. This programme has changed since then but it still operates in a fairly similar fashion. As an apprentice, you must complete around 3000 hours of on-the-job training, working with various chefs, then complete the programme at a designated college or university. I can honestly say that what I learned in that time has stayed with me far longer than a lot of other things I learned in school (Pythagorean’s Theorem, anyone?). I worked professionally for several years before putting my culinary life behind me. I started to dislike cooking. I found myself frustrated by intricate dishes and wanted comfort foods. I lost my cooking mojo and it stayed lost for many years.

In time, I began a new journey. A journey that has landed me here, in what many consider, the culinary capital of the world. Paris has been an interesting place to live as far as dining, cooking and food exploration is concerned. I have learned to give green beans a chance. I have learned about the different butters that exists and how to use them in pretty much everything. I have learned to make things like Coq au vin, Charlotte aux Fraises and ratatouille (recipes coming in time). Yet, I came here with some classics already in my pocket and have learned that sometimes, I like MY version better! Take for instance the timeless soupe à l’oignon gratinée aka French Onion Soup. One of my absolute favourite dishes especially when I am on a ski holiday in the Alps. Nothing is better at warming you up on a cold winter day, except maybe fondue!! However, I have been routinely disappointed in actual restaurants here with their soup. I even complained in a famous Parisian restaurant once about it being too watery to which my polite French waitress replied, “but madame, there is water in soup!”

So, it seemed fitting to me when I decided I would incorporate local dishes in this blog (hungry adventurers have to eat!) that I would start with one of my favourites: soupe à l’oignon gratinée. This recipe is my own take on this soup and you don’t have to agree with how I make it. It’s OK. All I can say is that boy oh boy does this version ever do the trick for me!

**Please do not attempt this soup at 6pm hoping to eat it for 6:30pm. She needs time to really develop her flavours and to rush it would be a sin.  I generally make mine in the afternoon then turn off the heat, cover and let it sit for the rest of the day. I reheat just in time for dinner then add the cheese and bread. At this point, this dish is complete perfection.

Soupe à l’oignon gratinée:

Makes 4 – 6 servings depending on your bowl and appetite size

  • 700g thinly sliced onions (I use a mix of yellow and red to enhance the flavour)
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely diced
  • 30g flour (optional – just makes it slightly less watery)
  • 1-1,5L beef, chicken or vegetable stock (for a veggie-friendly version)
  • 100ml red wine
  • 5ml or 1tsp thyme
  • 30ml or 2tbs Worcestershire sauce (there are vegan versions if you prefer)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • stale bread (day old baguette is perfect)
  • Grated cheese (I use a mixture of Emmental, Gruyère and Comté)

Directions:

Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and begin to simmer, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes. You want them soft, translucent and slightly caramelised. Add the garlic, stir, then add flour and quickly stir again to coat the onions, not allowing it to stick to the bottom of the pot. Once all the onions are coated, add your wine and thyme (oooh a rhyme!). Stir again for a minute or so. At this point, at the remaining ingredients (stock, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf and pepper, leaving the salt out for now). Leave simmering for at least 30 minutes. Watch your liquid level doesn’t boil off too much, if needed you can add some more stock or water. When you are done you can either leave it to settle for a while like I do or move onto the next step: CHEESE AND BREAD!

Simmering away!
Simmering away!

You can accomplish this next step one of two ways: traditionally the soup is served into each bowl, topped with slices or chunks of stale bread, further topped with mounds of cheese then broiled to a crisp, salty, golden, cheesy perfection. However, not everyone HAS the right types of bowls for the oven so there is an alternate method. Get a cookie sheet and make little piles of bread topped with cheese for however many bowls of soup you are preparing. Make sure that they will fit into your bowl size after being in the oven otherwise you will create a big mess. Broil these bad boys then use a spatula to carefully transfer them on top of your soup! Voilà!

Parfait!
Parfait!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia