Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Marchesi - Pastries of Time Gone By

Marchesi is one of the oldest pastry shops in Milan where the art of bakers, the flavors, the colors and the smells meet and blend into the classic tradition menghina (of Milan also meaning a dessert or sweet). This shop began in the second half of the 1800's by Angelo Marchesi and is still situated today in one of the wonderful 1700's style palazzi.

Today the style
of the early 1900's has been maintained with decorated boxed ceilings, antique furniture, and lamps with the old bar in steel and brass. One can say, today in this shop one may literally breathe an atmosphere of the 1800's, almost a Renoir painting.

They are famous for their panettone, veneziana, praline and krantz as well as, not to miss, a daily appointment for breakfast with warm sweet rolls to tempt and, cocktail hour at the bar. If you want to see the real Milanesi, hang out during these two times and one could fill pages and pages for a book on old Milan. The origins of krantz go back to when the Milanese kicked Austria out of the city, this bread is not just about risen dough, it also contains puff pastry and takes up to 17 to 24 hours to create! Tasting this for the first time in all the years here in Italy, I confess, it is and was (devoured it) the most incredible marriage of butter and candied fruit! I hate to guess how much it cost the Piglet, I gather one needs a bank loan for these breads.

Panettone is a large Italian sweetbread, which is "the" dessert for the traditional Italian Christmas lunch as well as, being the favored dessert during the festivities of the season. There are two types of panettone, the one you find in the supermarkets produced commercially and, the ones you can find at some of the old Milanese pastry shops (taking up 2-3 days to produce). Real panettone is not dry but a soft, humble bread containing sultan raisins and top quality candied fruit. There are various legends as to the origin of this cake; one being that it was created by a kitchen helper of the court of the Sforza’s. This cake had to replace the chef’s cake, which had burnt in the oven. Another story runs along the lines of this, that the falconer of Ludwig the Moor, in love with the daughter of the baker, saved the bakery from bankruptcy by selling the falcons, and buying the ingredients for the panettone. The sweetbread then became a hit with the Milanese.

It is also said to have been a dessert created from the simple, leftover ingredients in the pantry, made by a nun who then drew a cross in the top of the dough to thank God for his providence.

During our travel to this shop, it was snowing with frigid temperatures as the whole world seemed to be in line cramming the store for their Christmas breads; soft lights on the inside with steamy windows; this seemed to be an image from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match-Seller, only the difference here was, the images were real and these delights are created as little works of art by the Marchesi family.

These specialties (panettone, krantz etc) used to be by reservation only and in person, not by phone, but today one can slip in un-announced and partake in this glorious old Milanese tradition; I wonder how the veneziana is...the traditional cake for New Years...thinking we may have to try to do another illegal park job to get there again.
The shop is open Tues - Saturday from 7:30 to 9pm, and Sunday f
rom 8am to 1pm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Milanese style...

Just got in from a snowy day in Milan...have SO much to tell! Christmas breads from the oldest bakeries in town, restaurants that I thought were closed, shopping the season with the "old milan" elbow to elbow...such an amazing treat! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Regional Tuscan Cooking at it's best!

During one of our lightening fast trips to Tuscany for work, we stopped in at a restaurant and locanda we had passed by in the car on numerous occasions but never had the time to stop in. This is a gem, one worth planning your trip around just to immerse yourself in an atmosphere of top notch Tuscan country living.

This is a small locale hosting rooms as well as, the restaurant and being the curious one that I am, we requested to see the rooms; such a nice surprise to find them done tastefullly and with all the amenties one might wish. Granted, it is over the autostrada and very close to the exit so if you plan on staying for a while, it might be noisy but then again, while soggiorning at Hotel Rosati, I never noticed the traffic noise and this hotel is just a few steps away. Great place for an encounter, dinner downstairs and just crawl or race to the room afterwards. Sex, languid, steamy kiss, cozy.

The decor of t
he dinning room is ultra classic rustic Tuscan tables, with tables out side for the hotter months. This is a wonderful place for a quick meal or for something completely sumptious, slow and satisfying. The waitresses are patient and friendly and the food is cooked to order; (grilled specialties). One of my favorites was the bruschetta done with freshly grilled/roasted tuscan bread (which as you all know is salt free not to detract from the food). If you are dinning with more than two people, order different appetizers and share, the salame, cinta senese products as well as the cinghiale are out of this world and NOT to be missed. Do not expect a wine list, when asked she trotted back with three bottles of red, all Tuscan of course, a Montepulciano Rosso, and two Brunellos and all three super reasonably priced. I just picked one, the Montepulciano red and we were super satisfied with it, a perfect marriage with the meal. Two other "not-to-miss" dishes are the fagioli al fiasco and the ceci both boiled and served piping hot in their own cooking juice and dressed with a splash of fresh pressed olive oil (yes it was November time of the olive harvests). Anything chosen from the grill is fabulous as are the pasta dishes and the deserts are all homemade (did not have room for even a glance at those).

So, next trip to Tuscany or first timers, plan a journey through Chiusi (Etruscan heaven), Sarteano (wonderful tombs to visit), Montepulciano, Perugia, Orvieto and Siena and make base camp here at the Chiusi Chianciano crossroad, (Loc. Querce al Pino) you will save a few pennies as well as find some of the best Tuscan meals to be had. Oh, and do not forget to make a stop off in Pienza at the cheese and salame shops, pick u
p a finocchiona and salame both made from the Cinta Senese pork...your taste buds will thank you.

La Locanda della Ribollita