Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stresa: Ferragosto Grand Buffets!

Yesterday was the Ferragosto holiday in Italy. The name for the holiday comes from a festival that used to celebrate the Emperor Augustus and the church also uses this date to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a time when Italians are on holiday and have deserted the cities and headed to the beach, the lakes or the mountains.

Stresa was buzzing with visitors yesterday and for those staying at the grand lakefront hotels, there was a special feast in store! On the lawns outside the hotels wonderful buffets are set up with such foodie delights as mini steak tartare with truffle, Catalan lobster salad, raviolini with Piemonte cheese and porcini mushrooms, salted seabass, fresh lasagne with saffron, Castelmagno cheese and sautéed vegetables... and the list goes on! The tables were adorned with ice and butter sculptures, carved fruits and vegetables and even a small rowing boat!!

Luca and I joined the many onlookers along the lakefront, just as the final preparations and finishing touches being made by attentive waiters and chefs. So this week is a photographic tour of the Ferragosto buffets!

First stop is the Regina Palace...

Final preparations at the Regina Palace
Such pretty starters at the Regina Palace

As the sun sets, diners take their seats at the Regina Palace
Meanwhile, next door at the Hotel Astoria...

Ice and butter sculptures at the Hotel Astoria
The full picture at the Hotel Astoria
Ice sculpture and refreshing melon at the Hotel Astoria
And the party's getting underway at the Hotel La Palma...

Popping the prosecco corks for the Hotel La Palma aperitivo
The Chef keeping an eye on proceedings at the Hotel La Palma
What foodie treats to choose next!
At the buffet!
And finally, further along the lakefront at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées...

Admiring the buffet display at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
Ferragosto buffet in the exquisite gardens of the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
I hope you've enjoyed the photos and have got a taste of Ferragosto celebrations at the grand hotels in Stresa. The atmosphere was wonderful, with diners and hotel staff alike enjoying the moment. Did you attend one of the dinners? Let us know what your favourite part of the evening was and what was your favourite dish!

If you're going to be visiting Stresa for Ferragosto and are not on half board at the large hotels you can still enjoy their gastronomic celebrations! Reservations are open to non hotel residents. Prices range from €70-€80 per head excluding drinks and details appear on their websites and Facebook pages a week or so in advance.

Links to the hotels pictured:

Hotel Astoria, Stresa

Links to hotels who also offer Ferragosto feasts:

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Stresa Travel: Dinner on Isola Pescatori

This week Luca and I celebrated 11 years together and to mark the occasion we decided to go to one of our favourite places for dinner: Isola Pescatori. There's nothing like the atmosphere of the island "after hours" as the sun goes down on a summer's evening.

Setting off from Stresa on the ferry
 We took the ferry from Stresa at 18.00 so that we could enjoy a stroll around the island and an aperitivo before dinner. Setting off from the port in Stresa at the end of a long working day felt like going on holiday for the evening! Knowing that for almost everyone else on the ferry it was the end of their sightseeing or working day made it more exciting :)

Luca enjoying the journey
As we pulled away and set out into the Borromean Bay we really got a chance to see Stresa in a way that we don't normally see it. The town really is nestled into a green haven of trees, plants and flowers. The grandeur of the lakefront hotels really stands out and it is great fun spotting the almost hidden villas on the hills behind the town.

Heading for Isola Bella
The ferry stopped at Isola Bella first and we couldn't believe the amount of people getting on the ferry! It must have been a very busy afternoon in the palace and gardens. We set off again and the next stop was ours: Isola Pescatori.

Arriving at Isola Bella
The island itself is inhabited all year round by about 50 residents and the traditional occupation of the islands, fishing, is still practiced by a couple of families. The winding lanes, island life and the tiny San Vittore church make it a charming place to visit.

Arriving at Isola Pescatori
Isola Pescatori is already a favourite place of mine for the aforementioned reasons, but in the evening it takes on a whole new persona. As the tourists depart for the day, the islanders reclaim their island and it becomes their playground. The "tail" of the island becomes a meeting place for new Mums with their babies, for friends to catch up on the day's gossip and for children to run and play. There's sunbathing in the late evening sun, diving off the jetties into the lake and a spot of fishing to be done.

A Fisherman's House
After a leisurely stroll around the island and a stop in the church we took a seat at the Miralago bar for an aperitivo. Their terrace extends over the lake and we watched the diving, swimming and fishing. As we were sat, the last ferry of the day called in and the ticket office was closed up for another day. Although the bar was closing so the owners could catch the ferry home, we paid, were told to stay as long as we liked and just to leave the glasses on the table when we'd finished.

At around 19.30 we decided that dinner was calling. There are many excellent restaurants on the island: Ristorante Verbano, Ristorante Italia and Casabella although we tend to go to the Ristorante Belvedere and that is where we dined on Tuesday.

The Ristorante Belvedere is run by Paco, the forth generation of the Garofoli family to do so. He is immensely proud of his family's restaurant and of being an islander.

The outside terrace is simply heavenly and our table looked out across the lake to Isola Madre, Pallanza and Laveno. The service and food was exceptional as always: we ate a starter of boccincini bite size pieces of three types of fish with julienne pickled vegetables and a delicious second course of perch with brown butter and almonds. For dessert Luca chose apple cake and I had a very naughty chocolate torte! This was all accompanied by a crisp, chilled bottle of Arneis.

Starter, Ristorante Belvedere
On the beach below we watched children taking their dogs for a swim, small boats coming and going and the fishermen going out to set their nets.

At the end of the evening we travelled back to terra firma and real life! Dropped by taxi boat on the beach opposite the Hotel Astoria we enjoyed a stroll along the lakefront to close up the office and head home.

Table with a view :)
We highly recommend an evening out on Isola Pescatori to everyone and it need not be as pricey or difficult to arrange as you might first think. The easiest way is if you are over there to visit during the daytime. Just pop in at the restaurants and ask to see their evening menu. Then you can gauge prices. From what I remember for the Ristorante Belvedere, starters were approximately €12, first courses €12-€15, second courses €18-€20 and desserts around €6. When you book the restaurant will arrange the transport to and from the island for you at no extra charge, either by their own boat or taxi boat.

Let us know if you've ventured over to Isola Pescatori for dinner and where and what you ate :)

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Friday, August 3, 2012

Stresa Travel Recipes: Bonet (Bunet) all'astigiana

I thought it was about time for another recipe. I've stayed local for this one and delved, once again, into my book of Piemotese cookery. I have gone for the recipe pictured on the cover (left), although as you'll see below, my food styling skills leave a bit to be desired. As Luca was tucking in last night there were plenty of appreciative Homer Simpson type "mmmmmm's" and he declared that "it's the taste that matters!". Quite right :)

Bonet (or bunet) all'astigiana is a typical Piemontese dessert based on eggs, sugar, milk and a liqueur (usually rum) and amaretti biscuits. You can also add chocolate or cocoa, which this recipe does.

Ingredients (makes 6 in large moulds or 10-12 in smaller moulds)

1 litre milk
100g savoiardi (ladyfinger / boudoir biscuits)
120g amaretti biscuits
4 dessert spoons rum
5 eggs
200g sugar
50g unsweetened (bitter) cocoa powder


Grease your moulds.

Boil the milk in a pan and then leave to cool. Turn on your oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6 and prepare a bain-marie

Break up the savoiardi and amaretti until they are crumbs and mix into the cooled milk, mixing well. Add the rum and mix again.

Savoiradi and amaretti crumb / egg and sugar mixture ..... with cooca added
In a bowl use a hand mixer to combine the eggs and sugar until you get a pale, soft cream texture. Add the cocoa and mix until completely combined.

Add the milk mixture a bit at a time until all ingredients are combined.

Pour a thin layer of caramel into the bottom of each mould and then pour your bonet mixture in on top. At this point I should say I didn't have caramel so used a small dribble of vanilla essence!

Place your moulds in the bain-marie and cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Refrigerate the desserts, in their moulds, for at least 2 hours. Turn them out and serve at room temperature. If you like the look of the cover picture add a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings.

The finished product - not beautiful, but very tasty!!!
I used a mixture of aluminium moulds and a ramekin. Despite greasing them well beforehand I did get a bit of sticking when trying to turn them out so maybe these new silicon moulds might work better. Let me know if you try.