This week at Villa Via Sacra (Mount Tabor Centre for Art and Spirituality), we’ve been hosting Gabriel V Brass Ensemble as they participate in a-two week musical exchange with the world renowned Gomalan Brass Quintet. It’s always a great privilege and joy to “be in the background” serving these groups as they work hard to perfect their art, learning and discussing the music and seeking to bring it alive through both their personal and corporate vision. Music is a wonderful communicator — even though these groups speak two totally different languages, communicating has not been a problem at all. If you are in Tuscany, following the week of study with Gomalan Gabriel V will present a free concert at the Duomo di San Cristoforo in Barga, Italy on Oct. 6 at 21,00. We hope to see you there!
Benedictine hospitality is at the heart of our mission, and we enjoy “spoiling” the artists with great food as they work tirelessly at their art day after day. Pears are in abundance now in Italy, so I made this wonderful cake for lunch yesterday. It’s quick and easy to throw together, and the moistness of the pears doubled with the homemade caramel just begs to be eaten with a big dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the sides of a 9-inch round pan with removable sides (like a cheesecake pan).
Combine the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and heat to boiling, then remove from heat. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange the pears over the butter mixture and press down.
Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and beat 10 seconds. Pour in the milk and beat just until the batter is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Pour the batter over the pears, then carefully lift the pan and bang back down on the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles.
Bake approximately 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Run a knife along the outer edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a plate over the cake, then flip it over to invert the cake onto the pan. Let the cake cool completely before serving.
Serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.
Thank you to "Living Well Spending Less" for this wonderful recipe!
It is August in Tuscany, and that means the locals are out gathering Porcini! Our friends from the mountains heard that we might like to do this, and invited us to join them for an early morning “hunt.” I learned that porcini, which means “piggy,” is a reference to the stubby appearance of the mushrooms. The marvel of these fungi is the symbiotic relationships they have established with the trees and especially here with the Castagna (or Chestnut) Tree. The tree and the mushrooms actually exchange nutrients that enable each to flourish. Porcini thrive when hot dry weather is followed by a cooler rain, and this has been the case here in Italy this summer.
A few of us from the Villa set out at dawn to make the long, windy drive up to Renaio. Ten families live in this village that is set in the picturesque mountains above Barga. “Usually you can hunt for hours and maybe get one or two,” our friends warned us, but we didn’t let that deter us! After a few silent prayers to the patron saint of porcini hunting, we started roaming the mountains with great zeal and a sprightly Jack Russell Terrier at our heels. In between a brief run-in with a patch of stinging nettles and a tumble down the mountainside, we discovered we had found a basketful between us!
You never want to eat porcini before getting them checked by a master, so we rushed off to a lovely lady who has lived in the mountains all her life, and can separate the “buono” from the “non buono.” In true Italian style, Deana invited us to stay for “pranzo” (accompanied, of course, by a robust bottle of vino da casa). She smiled as I asked her questions in my faltering Italian and watched her prepare the porcini for lunch. I felt truly humbled. Friends are made easily here, conversation is boisterous and engaging, and food is not only for the body, but to nourish the soul.
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Deana’s Farina di mais Crusted Porcini
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
1Porcini(or Portabello) – stem removed, and both stem and cap sliced thinly
½ to 1cupcornmealFinely Ground (or Farina di mais, a grana fine)