Bergamo

The medieval walled town of Bergamo is a charming town with piazzas, palazzi and frescoed churches that owes much of its beauty to 370 years of Venetian rule.

We decided to stop here on the way to our first stop of our trip, Verona. I had been to Bergamo about 14 years ago when I was living in Lugano and I remembered it as a charming town. It was still as charming as I remembered and it was a perfect stop on the way to Verona.

Bergamo is made up of Bergamo Basso (Lower Bergamo) and Bergamo Alta (Upper Bergamo). Bergamo Alta is high above the lower town and can either be reached by taking the funicular or driving up and parking in one of the public parking lots that are hidden in the narrow cobble-stoned streets of the old town.

The main sites in Bergamo Alta are:

  • Piazza Vecchia (old square)

  • Palazzo della Ragione. It was the seat of the administration of the city in the communal age. It is now the site of exhibitions. Erected in the 12th century, it was rebuilt in the late 16th century by Pietro Isabello. The façade has the lion of St. Mark over a mullioned window, testifying to the long period of Venetian dominance. The atrium has a well-preserved 18th century sundial.

  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). It was built from 1137 on the site of a previous religious edifice of the 7th century. Construction lasted until the 15th century. Of this first building remains the external Romanesque structure and the Greek cross plan, while the interior was widely modified in the 16th and 17th centuries. Noteworthy are the great Crucifix and the tomb of Gaetano Donizetti. The dome has frescoes by Giovanbattista Tiepolo.

  • Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni chapel), annexed to Santa Maria Maggiore, a masterwork of Renaissance architecture and decorative art.
  • The Rocca (Castle). It was begun in 1331 on hill of the Sant’Eufemia by William of Castelbarco, vicar of John of Bohemia, and later completed by Azzone Visconti. A wider citadel was also added, but it is now partly lost. The Venetians built a large tower in the Rocca, as well as a line of walls (Mura Veneziane) 6,200 metres long.

  • Palazzo della Ragione and the nearby Biblioteca Angelo Mai (Palazzo Nuovo), designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi.

One of Bergamo’s famous son’s is the famous opera composer Gaetano Donizetti. He was most famous for writing the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

Bergamo is also famous for its polenta and cheeses. Unfortunately, we did not have time to try either of these, but I have fond memories of eating polenta with taleggio cheese and a wild mushroom ragu. The soft, creamy polenta mixed with taleggio cheese and sage and served with a delicious wild mushroom ragu. It was the perfect meal for a cold day. Of course the cold didn’t stop me from having gelato. I had some at the same gelateria with my husband and the pistachio gelato was a good as I remembered it.

Print
Soft Polenta with a Wild Mushroom Ragu
Ingredients
For the polenta:
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan Reggiano
For the ragu:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced (¼ teaspoon dried) thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup small cremini mushrooms cleaned, stemmed, and quartered
  • 1/2 cup assorted wild mushrooms cleaned and, if large, sliced
  • 2 medium shallots minced (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 small clove garlic minced (1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
Instructions
  1. Place the polenta and water in a heavy-bottomed 2 ½ quart saucepan (preferably one with fluted sides) and stir to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the grains are soft and hold their shape on a spoon, about an hour. Whisk in the salt, pepper, butter, and parmesan. Cover and keep warm. (The polenta may be transferred to a bowl, covered and set over barely simmering water. If necessary, thin the polenta with hot water before serving.)
  2. While the polenta is cooking, pour the cream into a second heavy-bottomed saucepan and simmer over low heat until it is thick and reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the thyme, nutmeg, and parmesan. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Heat a large skillet over high heat, 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the cremini mushrooms. Sear and stir intermittently until the mushrooms release their juices and begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the wild mushrooms, shallots and garlic and continue to sautée over high heat until the mushrooms are tender, 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper. Add the reserved cream and parsley and stir to coat. Taste for seasoning.
  4. To serve: Scoop the polenta onto warm appetizer plates, leaving an indentation on the top. Spoon the mushroom ragout over. Serve immediately.

Bella Italia

 

My  husband and I just returned back from 11 glorious days in Italy. We flew to Milano and stopped in Bergamo on our way to Verona for two nights, then we drove to Bologna for a few hours on our way to Colle di Val d’Elsa for one night, then to Siena for the day and then went to Monte Santa Maria Tiberina in Umbria for a week where we drove around the beautiful region of Umbria and saw Citta di Castello, Umbertide, Montone, Gubbio, Perugia, Spoleto and Assisi.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing about the places we visited and providing a recipe to go along with the blog entry. Hope you enjoy the trip.

A Big Fat Greek Wedding in Nazareth

Sorry for the long absence, but I went to Germany on business and only returned yesterday. Last night, I went to a Israel Christian wedding reception in Nazareth. My manager got married yesterday afternoon at a Greek Orthodox Church, but had the reception after Shabbat ended. It was a very nice reception. The band played Arabic music and there was a lot of dancing. I didn’t take too many food photos because: a) I couldn’t eat much and b) It wasn’t all that interesting.

There was lots of dancing, just like at a Jewish wedding. The bride and groom are hoisted on chairs high above the audience, just like at a Jewish wedding.

The dancing bottle trick, just like at some Jewish weddings. Actually there is no trick to this, you must have excellence balance. He is balancing Jordanian Arak.

This is some sort of candle ceremony. The bride danced with two candles and a few minutes later, women were circling her, taking turns holding a candle on either side of the bride. Then a few minutes later, the groom took the candles and danced around the bride. I will have to ask her what the significance of the candle ceremony is when she comes back from her honeymoon in the Far East.

The proud father of the bride came round with cigars and whiskey to celebrate the marriage. You know what the most beautiful thing about this wedding was? I looked around the room and saw how much everyone looked the same – Jew, Christian and Muslim. We were all happy for the lovely couple, we were all having fun dancing to the nice Arabic music…..just a normal day in Israel.

Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Indifference by Fritz Hirschberger (1912-2004)

Sunday evening, 15 April until sundown 16 April is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Can you imagine an entire country coming to a standstill for two minutes? This means stopping what your doing, whether you are at home or at work or in your car and thinking about the six million lives that were lost. A siren is sounded at 10AM on Monday and everyone stops what they are doing: cars stop driving and the drivers get out of their cars and stand in the middle of the highway for two minutes. The first time I experienced this, it brought me to tears. I was in a bus on my way to work and the bus driver stopped on the highway, he got out of the bus and the passengers stood in the aisle of the bus. In front of me I saw a sea of cars; it literally gave me goose bumps.

We lost a total of 120 family members on both sides of my family. One of my cousins, a professor at Leiden University in Holland, was riding his bike to the university when some Nazi soldiers stopped him, forced him to pull down his pants and upon seeing that he was circumcised, they shot him dead on the spot. My great-aunt and her sister and parents were rounded up and sent to Riga, Latvia. She, her mother and sister survived under great hardship, but her father z”l died on Lag B’Omer from gangrene that developed from an ingrown toenail.

My mother-in-law’s first husband was sent to a forced labor camp in Slovakia where he was murdered. They had only been married for six months. László Weiner was a promising Hungarian composer and conductor, whose musical vision was destroyed before it had a chance to blossom. Fortunately, a few of his compositions survived the war and have been played in several concerts in Budapest and elsewhere: one of them is due to be played in the Swiss capital, Berne, this coming November.

My mother-in-law, Vera Rozsa, went into hiding herself, living with a false identity as a Christian: her talent as an actress allowed her to walk unharmed out of two Gestapo interrogations. She also worked at the Swedish delegation in Budapest with Raoul Wallenberg who tried to save the lives of as many Jews as possible.

I will light seven memorial candles on Sunday, one for my family members and six for the six million who lost their lives for nothing more than meaningless hatred. Have we learned from those mistakes? I wonder……

Sur le Pont D’Avignon

Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse, on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse tous en rond

On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ring

My last installment on our trip to Provence is in Avignon, the seat of the Catholic papacy from 1309 – 1377 . Avignon is a beautiful walled city on the Rhône river.

It has tree lined boulevards and very interesting architecture.

It is also famous for the Le Pont St Benezet which originally spanned the Rhône River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon on the left bank. It was built between 1171 and 1185, but it suffered frequent collapses during floods and had to be reconstructed several times. The bridge was partially destroyed by a great flood in 1668. Now only four of the initial 22 arches remain intact today.

We did not stay in a fancy hotel in Avignon. I used my Holiday Inn points and we stayed two nights at a Holiday Inn Express outside of the old city. It was brand new. There is safe underground parking near the Le Palais des Papes and we parked there and explored the old city.

Our first day in Avignon, we went straight to the tourism office and got a map of the city. Then, we headed straight for the Le Palais des Papes, which is about a 2 hour self-guided tour. We bought a combination ticket that included Le Pont St Benezet. Both of these monuments have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The first documented Jewish community in Avignon existed in the 12th century. The first Jewish quarter, or carrière, faced the pope’s palace. By the early 13th century, the carrière was where the present-day synagogue stands. This tiny area, barely 100 square yards, was home to over 1,000 people. There were many restrictions on Jewish life within the carrière. Walls surrounded it and three gates restricted Jewish activity. The Roman Catholic Church collected tolls, and selling kosher meat outside the quarter was forbidden. We saw the outside of the synagogue at night and were unable to take a good photograph, but it looks similar in style to the synagogue in Carpentras (shown in the picture above).

We had a lovely dinner at Basilic Citron, 4 Place de la Principale . It has a wonderful space for romantic outdoor dining in the courtyard and the decor inside the restaurant is also very romantic. There were strolling musicians to entertain us throughout the meal.

A three course dinner for two with a bottle of wine was 90 euro. This was the most expensive meal of our entire trip. The food was delicious: we loved the entire meal, but we both really loved the tuna. We definitely recommend this restaurant.

Our first courses were:

Thon brulee aux epices, reduction de vinaigre balsamique aux agrumes
Fresh tuna with spices and a reduction of balsamic vinegar and citrus

Asperge vertes et blanches du pays, vinegrette a l’huile de noisette torrefies
Local green and white asparagus with a vinaigrette of roasted hazelnut oil

Second courses:

Tranche d’espadon poelee, tians de legumes, bearnaise aux pistils de safran
Sauteed swordfish steak with a vegetable tian and a saffron flavoured bearnaise sauce

Pave de caillebaud aux herbes fraiches vapeur, chartreuse d’aubergine a la tomate
Piece of cod filet steamed with fresh herbs and an aubergine timbale stuffed with tomato

Dessert courses:

Millefeuille a la pistache, marmelade de griotte acidule
Pistachio napoleon with sour morello cherry jam

Tartare de fraise du pays, sorbet cactus/citron vert
Fresh local strawberries with a cactus and lime sorbet

Plume, Cote de Luberon, white wine

After dinner we went window shopping and saw a lovely confectioners shop that made caramels and candied fruits, a Provencal speciality.

We definitely want to go back to Provence. It is a beautiful region full of history, scenery, art and architecture.

St. Paul de Vence – Something to Wet Your Whistle

St. Paul de Vence is a very picturesque town which is famous for its beauty and also is the final resting place of Auguste Escoffier and Marc Chagall. It has narrow winding streets with small squares tucked in between. This is definitely a village for romance, whether you want to propose to someone, go on a honeymoon or just spend a romantic vacation with the one you love. I would recommend staying at Le St. Paul. Everyone wants to be at the Colombe d’Or because of its amazing collection of paintings and sculptures and because every movie star known to man has stayed there. The hotel is therefore always crowded with curious tourists. The Le St. Paul hotel is tucked away in the middle of the village, is beautiful and tranquil, and has an amazing view of the valley below.

A number of painters, founders of the 20th-century schools, flocked to Saint-Paul: Matisse, Soutine, Chagall, Renoir, Signac, Modigliani, Dufy… not to mention writers including Gide, Giono, Cocteau and Prévert.

In July 1964, the Fondation Maeght was inaugurated by André Malraux. It was the joint creation of Aimé and Marguerite Maeght and artists including Giacometti, Chagall, Miró and Calder. The museum and grounds are beautiful. If you like modern art, then it is a must-see.

There are a number of art galleries and other specialty shops. One that caught our eye was a shop that sold various liqueurs and olive oil.

The name of the shop is Les Trois Etoiles de St. Paul and it is owned by a lovely man named Horst.

Horst has a very interesting selection of liqueurs, such as honey, plum, peach, limoncello cream, strawberry, blackberry and pear, as well as several types of balsamico and local olive oil. He certainly believes in letting potential buyers try out his wares; we must have had about eight tastings before we chose a plum liqueur and lemoncello cream to take home as part of our swag.

The House that Escoffier Built

I tend to do a lot of research when planning a trip. I always buy a guidebook and look for interesting places to visit on the internet. I spent weeks collecting information for our trip to Provence, including printing out maps on the Michelin website. It was quite helpful and we used those maps for our various day trips that we made.

One of those places that I insisted on visiting was the village of Villeneuve-Loubet, because it is the childhood home of Auguste Escoffier and his birth home contains the Musee de l’Art Culinaire, or Museum of Culinary Art.

This museum is dedicated to Auguste Escoffier, “King of Chefs and Chef to Kings”, the creator of the famous Peach Melba, strawberries Romanoff and who, according to his obituary in a British newspaper, “put frogs’ legs on the West End menu.”

The museum has eight rooms that display souvenirs, objects, sugar sculptures and utensils from his time, a collection of menus and a number of photographs and articles.

One of the museum’s eight exhibit rooms features the fireplace and spit used by the Escoffier family.

A photograph of the Australian opera star Nellie Melba is signed “A Monsieur Escoffier avec mes remerciements pour la creation Peche Melba,” (To Monsieur Escoffier with my thanks for the creation of Peach Melba) and dated 1914.

The museum has menus from his days at the Carlton and at London’s Savoy Hotel, as well as menus for the coronation dinner honoring King George V.

I recommend stopping and seeing this interesting museum and walking around the beautiful village.

I know I should show you a picture of the Peach Melba or Strawberries Romanoff I made, but I haven’t made either one. However, in keeping with the ice cream that you serve with the peach melba, I thought I would give you a recipe for a luscious coffee ice cream with a warm ganache sauce.

Print
Coffee Ice Cream with Warm Chocolate Ganache
Ingredients
For the ganache:
  • 1 cup finely chopped premium bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
For the ice cream:
  • 1 cup whole Italian-roast coffee beans
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 large egg yolks
For the assembly:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts roughly chopped
Instructions
Ganache
  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate has completely melted and forms into a thick sauce. Use immediately or keep warm over a hot water bath on very low heat until ready to use.
Ice cream
  1. Crush the beans into coarse pieces by placing them in a ziploc bag and smashing them with a rolling pin. Add the crushed beans, the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 cup cream into a saucepan . Place the saucepan over medium heat and slowly bring the milk mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat as soon as bubbles break the surface. Steep the coffee beans in the milk mixture for at least 1 hour. Strain the mixture and set aside. Discard the coffee beans.
  2. Have ready a large bowl filled with ice water. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 3/4 cup sugar until the mixture becomes pale yellow and forms a ribbon.
  3. Reheat the coffee-flavored milk mixture, bringing it to a simmer. Immediately remove it from the heat, and with the mixer on low speed, slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs and sugar. While mixing, add the remaining hot milk mixture in a slow, steady stream until incorporated. Scrape the mixture from the sides and the bottom of the bowl mix well, and pour through a sieve into another bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup cold cream and stir well to combine.
  4. Place in the ice bath. Stir until the mixture has completely cooled. Transfer the mixture to a covered container and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until ready to churn.
  5. Churn the ice cream and place in the freezer for about 1 hour.
Assembly:
  1. Place two scoops of ice cream in a bowl and pour the hot ganache over the ice cream, top with whip cream and the chopped hazelnuts.

Provence and the Cote d’Azur

My husband and I went on a lovely 12-day vacation last June to the Cote d’Azur and Provence. We stayed in a beautiful villa on Cap d’Antibes for 10 days and a hotel in Avignon for two days. We travelled to Haute de Cagne, Nice, Tourtour, Villecroze, Salernes, Flayosc, Vence, St. Paul de Vence, Villeneuve-Loubet, Grasse, Villefranche sur le Mer, Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Marseille, Cassis, Avignon, Orange, Carpentras, and Aix en Provence.

We were fortunate enough to have been invited to stay at a family friend’s home in Cap d’Antibes. We had the house to ourselves.

The house was 75 meters from the sea and had a rooftop terrace which has a magnificent view of the bay. We spent several romantic evenings on the rooftop sharing a bottle of delicious Provencal rose watching the sunset over the bay.

We were in heaven. The house is decorated beautifully. I could have moved right in. If I am fortunate enough to design my own home, I am going to have a staircase just like theirs….

The three panels were made by a local artist and depict scenes from life in Provence. I would love to have some made with three scenes in Israel.

Here are a closeup of the three panels:

A cafe scene,

fishermen,

And, the game of Pétanque.

We had breakfast and dinner at the house almost every evening. We grilled sardines, sebaste, trout, red gunard and emperor bream. The fish was outstanding. We were really looking forward to having red mullet, but it cost three times what we pay here.

We did not eat out a lot because most of the restaurants were very expensive and since we had a kitchen in the villa, we took full advantage of cooking with beautiful fresh ingredients. The reason I say expensive is because 1 Euro was approximately 5.50NIS.

We drank a lot of wine while we were there and were amazed at how little they cost. We had:

  • Les Orfevres Vignerons, Sainte Victoire Cote du Provence 2004, Rose
  • Golfe de Saint Tropez Merlot, Vin de Pays du Var
  • Montcigale Beaucaire, Coteaux d’ Aix en Provence 2005, Rose
  • Chateau de Sablet Bordeaux 2005
  • Domaine Francois Gerbet Bourgogne 2004, Rose
  • Chateau Minuty Gassin, Cuvee du Bailly 2004, Rose
  • L’Arnaud 2005, Rose
  • Les Vignobles Choisis 2004, Cotes de Provence

We also ate a number of cheeses:

  • Le bleu des Basques
  • Saint Nectaire
  • Pyrenees Montsegur
  • Brie
  • Dry chevre, don’t remember the name

We came back with some nice goodies:

Two Provencal salt mixes, walnut oil and Basque paprika

Calissons (we also bought dark chocolate covered), olives (didn’t eat them there) and chestnut honey

Creme de Prune and Creme de Lemoncello from a lovely shop that I will tell you more about in St. Paul de Vence

Wanted to bring back more wine, but alas we have a limit.

I also bought some beautiful Provencal fabric for three cushions that I am having made as a headboard for our bed.

Next post: The man that put Villeneuve-Loubet on the map.

Chag Sameach!

I hope that all of you have a joyous Passover full of peace and love.

I am going to be very busy the next couple of days preparing for the seder and will be back with more stories and photos to share with you this coming week.

Here are a couple of teaser photos for a series of upcoming posts. We are going to travel to France.

Any idea who lived here?

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