Continuing to follow the sun this summer, we stopped for breath in the French Alps. Walking in the clean, mountain air was the best answer to liberate us from any of the year’s accumulating cobwebs. Next time I’ll take a bike (although I need to practice on flat ground first) but in the meantime we did plenty of cyclist watching, hypnotically driving behind previous marks on the road left by red-spotted or yellow-tunic supporters during past Tour de France mountain races.
As we were perched in Montgenèvre, Italy was just next door. Italian temptation rang like the tinkling of neighbouring church bells at noon and so we popped over for a sweet few hours. We headed East on the stunning Turin road for the Roman town of Susa in Piedmont, a peaceful sleepy town definitely worth visiting.
This ‘pasticceria‘ pastry shop was our first sweet welcome, although it was closed for a long lunch (and obviously siesta) when we arrived. You could tell from the window that their macarons were selling as much as their traditional baci di dama (lit: ladies’ kisses) biscuits.
Susa’s streets gravitate towards the Porta Savoia gate, where the town centre’s piazza is marked by the 11th Century San Giusto Cathedral. The gate is also considered by the locals as quite modern, as it was rebuilt during the Middle Ages!
It’s hard to believe that these monuments are still standing since their Roman predecessors. Below left is the Augustan Arch, dating back to 8 BC. On the right, the remains of the Roman aqueduct, slightly younger, clocking in at 375 AD.
It’s mind-blowing just thinking of the number of gladiators who would have been behind these bars, awaiting their turn to run out into the Roman Ampitheatre to a roar of excited spectators, hungry for action.
After testing the perfect acoustics of the Ampitheatre pretending to be an opera singer, it was time to make a sharp exit since I was embarrassing hubby and the girls (Valérie, a good friend in Provence, has a sign in her WC saying “If you’re not embarrassing your kids you’re not living life to the full”.) Running after them, it didn’t take long to discover they were already choosing ice cream flavours from the piazza’s La Bottega del Gelate.
Somehow, however, I feel I can live life to the full without selfies. The girls were trying to explain how to take them properly but I was more interested in ice cream. Julie didn’t give up: “Well at least make a silly face, Mum.” I tried.
I also tried to go posh, Pierre Hermé style, and pick a chocolate and passion fruit combination. The passion fruit was rather synthetic but the chocolate was good (although I wanted Baci – chocolate ice cream with hazelnut like Perigina’s ‘kiss’ chocolates). Our overall winner was voted as pistachio as there must have been real Italian pistachios in there.
As we checked out the local grocery stores for pistachios, we found the best deal and quality at the local Carrefour supermarket, full of interesting Italian produce. Quickly cleaning out their stock of Sicilian pistachios, I couldn’t wait to try them back home: liberally added to weekend brioche, dark chocolate cake, or pistachio and chocolate-pistachio macarons. It’s not just the flavour but the pistachio colour (see this post about it) has to look realistic, don’t you think?
It didn’t take long before I made a few panna cottas for a Sunday afternoon lunch last weekend. Rose and griotte cherry panna cottas were on the menu but above all, these simple pistachio-strawberry creamy desserts.
Needless to add that panna cottas go deliciously well with macarons! I completely forgot about this packaging bought in a baking supply shop in Rouen. It’s handy to transport your macarons since the little tower centrepiece has a cover that you can easily clip around them. Rouen – there’s another place I should tell you about later.
Perhaps I could call the chocolate-hazelnut macarons (one of the 38 macaron recipes in the book BTW) Baci macaron? Bite into one and it’s a chocolate kiss. Oh-la-la. Enough of that nutty talk. Time to get on with the recipe!
Recipe: Pistachio Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis
Makes enough for 8 mini verrines / shot-glasses
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2.5 hours minimum
3 sheets gelatine (@2g each)
400ml crème fleurette or whipping cream (30% butterfat)
100ml whole/full fat milk
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp pistachio paste *
3-4 drops pistachio extract (or almond extract)
1 gelatine leaf (@ 2g)
300g fresh strawberries
50g caster sugar
* If you don’t have pistachio paste, make up your own: whizz 100g unsalted pistachios in a grinder. Mix together with 25g ground almonds, 50g sugar, 2 drops of pistachio extract and a tablespoon of water.
1. Soak the 3 gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes.
2. Heat the cream, milk, sugar and pistachio paste in a saucepan. Once heated through, squeeze the gelatine of excess water and stir it into the warm cream until melted. Add the pistachio extract then pour into serving glasses.
3. Cool for 15 minutes then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
4. Just before the creams are set, prepare the coulis. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes. Whizz together the strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor. Microwave 3 tbsp on high for 30 seconds, and melt in the gelatine (squeezed of excess water). Set aside to cool and when the creams are set, pour on the coulis and continue to chill in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes.
Funny. As I’m writing, I can sniff the waft of pizza floating upstairs. Lucie has discovered how to make pizza all by herself. It has been so good that she’s starting to make it quite often – and she’s even excited at cleaning up – well, nearly.