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Mountain Chef: Warm up with an Italian feast

ThinkstockSaltimbocca alla romana (veal escalopes with sage, Italy)

Buon Giorno! This freezing-cold weather reminds me of a trip to Aosta Valley in Northern Italy years ago. I was very excited about visiting this region because it is the least populated and smallest region in Italy. I arrived to find a deserted town (due the freezing temperatures) and not much in the way of accommodation or dining. I was lucky enough to have my winter camping gear and a loaf of bread and some chocolate. I knew that would be enough to hold me over. I set up camp in a local’s backyard, bundled up and I took a walk around town to find one light shining from a distant house. I walked up to find out it was actually a restaurant! I was the only one there and the proprietor was as excited to see me as I was him. I was then wined and dined by my newly found friend, eating all local specialties such as polenta, gnocci, local ham and an amazing custard dessert. All this was accompanied by delicious regional wine and great conversation – even though my Italian was nonexistent.

Food means different things to each of us, and these memories are inspiring me to prepare some delicious, hearty Italian food! This region’s food specialties include hearty ingredients such as potatoes, polenta, cheese (of course), rice and meats. Other regional delicacies are pane nero (black bread), Fontina cheese made from local cow’s milk (there are more cows in this region than people), and lots of soup! So this is a difficult choice of what recipes to offer this week because they are all so delicious. Stay warm and embrace the cold weather with memories of good food and friends. Buon appetito!

Ian T Buchanan is the Chef/Owner of Open To The World Private Chef Services and Lead Instructor at CMC Breckenridge’s Center For Lifelong Learning Culinary Program. Please view his website open2theworld.com and feel free to contact him at (440) 376-0096 or swing by and sign up for a Culinary Class At CMC Breckenridge

3 cans Great Northern or other white bean

3 Tablespoons olive oil

3 slices bacon

1 large onion diced

1 cup chopped leek (white parts only)

2 stalks celery diced

1 carrot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large tomato (peeled and seeded)

1 quart vegetable stock

1 pint heavy cream

1 T chopped thyme

1 tsp chopped rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lemon

1 whole-grain baguette

Olive oil to grill

In large stock pot render bacon over medium heat then and add olive oil, onion, celery, carrots, leek and garlic. Sweat vegetables until onion is translucent.

Add beans, tomato and stock then bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Add cream and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat grill or oven. Once a thicker consistency is reached with the soup, add fresh herbs, season with salt, pepper and juice from lemon.

Slice baguette, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill or bake until toasted, serve warm alongside soup.

4 cups chicken stock, plus 1/2 to 1 cup if needed

Wild Mushroom Polenta

4 cups chicken stock, plus 1/2 to 1 cup if needed

5 cups whole milk

1/2 cup dry wild mushrooms re-hydrated in warm water (reserve one cup water)

2 cups polenta

4 T butter

1/2 cup grated Fontina cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine milk, salt, re-hydrated mushrooms, one cup mushroom water and stock and bring to a simmer. Add the polenta in a slow steady stream and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook at very low heat, stirring frequently until polenta is soft, about 20-30 minutes. If the mixture begins to thicken too much, add more simmering stock. Finish with butter, salt, pepper and grated cheese. The consistency should be that of loose mashed potatoes.

8 thin veal cutlets (less than 1/8 inch thick; about 2-1/2 ounces each)

5 garlic cloves

2 Tablespoons minced onion

24 fresh sage leaves (each about 2 1/2 to 3 inches long)

16 thin slices prosciutto (about 1/4 pound total)

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup diced tomato

2/3 cup dry white wine

Pat veal cutlets dry and with a knife, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Spread about 1/2 teaspoon garlic paste on one side of one veal cutlet and arrange three sage leaves in one layer over paste. Cover veal cutlet with two slices prosciutto. Arrange veal cutlet, prosciutto side down, on a tray and season with pepper. Prepare more saltimbocca in same manner.

In a 12-inch heavy pan heat oil over high heat until it just begins to smoke and saute two veal cutlets, prosciutto sides down, 30 seconds. Turn veal cutlets over and saute 15 seconds more, or until veal is just cooked through. Transfer saltimbocca with tongs to a platter and keep warm, loosely covered with foil. Saute remaining veal cutlets and keep warm in same manner.

Return pan to high heat. Add onion and remaining garlic and saute 1 minute then add tomatoes and wine and deglaze skillet, scraping up brown bits. Saute 2-3 minutes and season with salt and pepper..

Serve saltimbocca on a bed of polenta drizzled with sauce.