A little bit of Skiing for a lot of Eating.

Apr 12, 2014 by

In Cervinia it’s Cervino. In Switzerland Mattherhorn

Our Austrian ski instructor said by the time he had finished with us, we would be skeezing down de slopsens. This was eight years ago for me and as I looked up at the slopes in Cervinia with the majestic Cervino (Matterhorn) looming up behind them, I shuddered.

I used to be fearless on a horse and on skis, but this year I was much more nervous. Yes, I know I’m older. Hate reminding of that. But I decided I would do stuff at my own pace and only ski when I felt like it. The rest of the time, I ate.

I came to the conclusion this week that it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in Italy (particularly if you avoid beef). Where we were was hardly the culinary capital of Italy and had a largely captive audience. Which made it all the more impressive.

Prosecco for half nothing

First stop was to the small local supermarket barely much more than a local Centra or Spar to stock up on “essentials”. I love wandering around supermarkets in Europe marvelling at the great selection of charcuterie and cheese on display as well as the local wines, spirits, oils and vinegars. In one of the restaurants they had bottles of De Cecco balsamic vinegar which was to die for. And, I’m not a huge fan of balsamic. Why can’t we buy it here I wonder? Every restaurant also had a bottle of olive oil on the table that you could literally spoon into your mouth. Rich, green, grassy and so so moreish.

Paccheri con frutti di mare

I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of this pasta (I had to Google it). It was like small pieces of folded lasagne. The sea food and the sauce with it was so good I could have licked the plate. While I was savouring it and the well-deserved glass of red after my first morning skiing, I put my knife and fork down as if finished and a waitress went to whip it away. The others laughed at my speedy reaction and one very embarrassed waitress.

Paparadelle con cinghiale

As you can see from the photos we ate in this restaurant, Chalet Etoile, most days at lunch. Simply because it was half way up the slopes and because the food was so good. The tables were out on a large deck and we could sit in the sun and relax over lunch for a couple of hours. They provided lovely red rugs in case you should feel a chill.

This dish pictured was paparadelle with cinghiale (wild boar). It was tiny cubes of meat not minced as I have had it before in Tuscany. It was delicious.

Anti pasti

On the Saturday two of us decided to take a day off and go for a spin down the hairpin bends and see Aosta about an hour’s drive away. Innocently thinking it was just a small town, we ended up taking a motorway (motorways are signposted green in Italy not blue like everywhere else in Europe). And to add even more confusion the national routes are signposted blue!

Eventually after driving through what seemed like a 20 mile tunnel by taking a wrong turn (no exaggerating) we found parking and stopped for a late lunch. This plate of charcuterie was eaten at one of those “touristy” restaurants in a piazza which normally I avoid like the plague. It was really good and included lardo, which I want to have a go at making from my own pigs. The bread wasn’t great but then I didn’t expect it to be. Aosta was a lovely old town with fabulous boutiques, craft shops, gelateria, chocolate vendors. Eye-wateringly expensive though.

Rigatoni con Gorgonzola e spinaci

Another day, another pasta dish. Rigatoni with Gorgonzola and spinaci. Yum. Rich and unctuous. I could feel my waist line expanding just by looking at it.

We had pizza a couple of times. I’m always struck by the simplicity of pizza in Italy. A thin crispy base, light and airy with a scraping of tomato sauce and at most two toppings. Some are just finished off with rocket. No heavily laden, stodgy densely-cheesy offerings here. And you don’t go into a glycemic coma afterwards.

I had veal twice. A veal fillet in a beautiful, newly opened restaurant called Wood . The chef is Scandinavian (and had trained under the chef/owner of Chalet Etoile), the menu was a fusion of very Scandinavian dishes with Italian touches. The fillet was beautifully cooked rare and was tender but strangely tasteless. One of our party had reindeer and another had venison. Both were delicious but I didn’t want to take “snaps”.

 Gnocchi ai tre formaggi

On my last day I just had to have gnocchi, served here with three cheeses and a platter of roast vegetables, fennel, pepper, aubergine, courgette, potato and stuffed tomato. Even the jug of the local vino was great. No plonk here!

One night when all ten of us decided to eat together and most of the others were having a beef fondue, I had veal cheek. I wanted to try rack of lamb as I had been told they were “running over the mountains” here. But sadly they had none left. I wasn’t impressed with the cheek and gave a piece to an English member of our party. He said “tasteless braised beef”. Another night I asked where the lamb was from and was told frozen from New Zealand. Even Italy is not immune from this nonsense.

The local wine as I have said was really good (Vallee D’Aoste). So good I stuffed two bottles into my bag on the way home. I wished I could bring a pallet of it. This one pictured was around the €8 mark in the small “Centra”. The reserve €12. I’m sure they were priced up. In fact I’m sure down the mountain you could buy them for half that.

I have skied in Austria and Switzerland previously. That sounds very pretentious but I stress I am still a novice. But I do know I would absolutely prefer Italy for the food and wine alone (and the slopes here are good for a beginner). Where we were in Austria, St Johann was very disappointing for both food and wine. In Switzerland all I remember loving was rösti.

Now I’m back home trying to figure out how I can save to go back next year and hopefully ski down de slopsens a lot more proficiently.

(The only disappointing thing all week was the standard of the breakfasts. But I was reliably informed it was not just the hotel we were staying in. They are all pretty much the same. It was the usual continental offering but no fresh fruit, only tinned. And the coffee was awful. Pretty amazing for Italy where everywhere you get coffee usually, it is fabulous.

The photographs were taken using my phone in bright sunlight so difficult to compose.)


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