Friday, October 26, 2012

Stresa Travel Recipes: Squash Two Ways for Halloween

Halloween isn't really a big deal in Italy like it is in America, or even the UK where I grew up. Italian children are starting to trick or treat (dolcetto o scherzetto), but it hasn't reached nearly the same kind of popularity here. The only place in Italy I've ever seen it celebrated on a grand scale is Comacchio when we visited one October. The whole town was decorated, took part in special events and were dressed in Halloween costumes.

Instead, Italians have a public holiday on November 1st for All Saints Day (Ognissanti). November 2nd, All Souls Day or Day of the Dead (Commemorazione dei Defunti or Festa dei Morti), is traditionally when Italians go to the local cemetery to lay chrysanthemums on their family graves and tombs.

As with most Italian religious days, there is an associated cake/cookie. There are many regional variations of Ossi dei Morti (Bones of the Dead) cookies. This one is accompanied by a touching family story and this one is from the Academia Barilla.

For my Halloween recipes, however, I've decided to share two of my favourite recipes using squash. I love squash. I can't tell you how much Luca and I eat during the Autumn and Winter! Whether as gnocchi or risotto like I show here, roast, mashed or added in minestrone.

Squash Gnocchi

I've gone through various test stages with these gnocchi, trying different ways of cooking the squash and different quantities of flour and I've finally found the recipe that works for me. The squash I use is a squat, green kind of squash as that is what is readily available here.

Squash gnocchi ready for the pot!
Serves 2 people

400g squash, peeled, raw weight
250g flour plus extra for dredging the work surface
1 medium egg

Cut the squash into large chunks and then cook it until it is very soft. Personally I use a pressure cooker as it is super quick. Mash it and leave it to cool completely. I've found that the best way is to spread it on a plate and leave it uncovered to cool. This way all the steam can escape and it dries out the squash a bit so it isn't soggy. Next mix in the egg and the flour and combine until you have a soft dough.

Dredge your work surface with flour and divide the dough into smaller pieces. Roll each smaller piece into a sausage and cut the sausage into the individual gnocchi about the size of the top part of your thumb. Until needed for cooking I keep my gnocchi on paper plates lined with greaseproof paper and lightly dredge them with flour.

Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling, salted water and remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as they start floating. Remove the floaters even if some haven't got there yet. The rest will follow on quickly!

You can serve these several ways but our favourites are with gorgonzola melted with a bit of cooking cream or with cherry tomatoes sautéed with a bit of garlic and topped with grated Parmesan  Let me know if you try them and what you like them served with!

Spiced Squash Risotto
Pretty bag of Carnaroli rice

The inspiration for this dish came from Jamie Oliver's Spicy Roasted Squash recipe from his first book, The Naked Chef. I liked the spice mix so decided to incorporate it in a risotto. Incidentally another one of his vegetable recipes that goes will in a risotto is the zucchini in padella from Jamie's Italy - especially if you throw in a few prawns at the end! Anyway here's the Spiced Squash Risotto recipe:

Serves 2 people

160g carnaroli rice
250 g squash, peeled raw weight, cut into 1cm cubes
Quarter of a white onion
Chicken stock, kept simmering
1 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
Herb/Spice mix : ground coriander, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, fennel seed, chilli flakes, garlic clove
Grated Parmesan

Grind the herb/spice mix in a pestle and mortar. Give them a good bash about!! For quantities it is up to your own particular taste but I tend to go heavier on the coriander and chilli flakes :)

Melt the oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed, not stick frying pan. I try to cut down on fat so feel free to use a bit more than mentioned in the recipe! Fry the onion until it is soft and turning transparent then add the cubed squash and the spices. Give everything a good mix round and add the rice. Stir well to make sure the spices are evening distributed. Add a ladle of chicken stock and start stirring. As soon as the stock is absorbed, add another ladle. Keep stirring and adding stock a ladle at a time until the rice is cooked. Towards the end I add smaller and smaller amounts of stock so as not to overcook the rice. Add half of your grated Parmesan and stir in.

Divide between two bowls and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan. As you can see from the photo I also garnished the dish with some slices of small salami which I dry fried or you could try a couple of rashers of crispy streaky bacon. Enjoy!

Spiced Squash Risotto before I grabbed my fork and got stuck in!
Let me know if you have a go at the recipes and how you get on. And if you're off out trick or treating or going to a Halloween party ......

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn in Stresa: Activities, Events and Excursions

Although many tour operators finish their programmes in the Italian lakes towards the end of September, that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty to do for the independent traveller.

Here are some ideas on activities, events and excursions available to visitors to Stresa in Autumn (updated for 2015):

The Lake Maggiore Express
For 2015 the Lake Maggiore Express is still available everyday as the full round trip by train, Centovalley Railway and ferry  until Sunday 11th October. If you aren't visiting after this date you can still travel to Locarno return using just the train and Centovalley Railway as these operate all year round. You might even choose to stop off en route at Santa Maria Maggiore in the Vigezzo Valley. Contact us for timetables!

The Centovalley Railway
The Borromean Islands
For 2015 the Borromean Islands will be open everyday until Sunday 25th October so you can still visit the unique palaces and gardens on Isola Bella and Isola Madre as well as the pretty fishing village on Isola Pescatori. For up to date ferry timetables visit

Catching a ferry to the Borromean Islands
Mottarone Cable Car and Alpyland Alpine Coaster
The Stresa to Mottarone cable car is open all year round and the Alpyland Alpine Coaster (such fun!) is open until the end of October and then reopens in December for the winter (December to March, weekends only). **unfortunately the cable car is currently closed for renovations ... but Alpyland is open as usual!**

Taking a ride on the Mottarone Cable Car
Autumn is a lovely time to take a walk in the local area and enjoy the outdoors. With a little help from public transport you can enjoy the Chestnut Route or Montorfano and Mergozzo.

Walks: Montorfano and Mergozzo
Events and Foodie Festivals (will be updated again when exact dates are confirmed)
In Autumn there are a whole host of local festivals and events dedicated to food! There is an Autumn Festival in Stresa on Saturday 3rd October 2015. Stresa also hosts chestnut festivals on 4th and 11th October, a truffle festival on 25th-26th October (2015 tbc), a chocolate festival on 1st-2nd November (2015 tbc) and a Gorgonzola Festival in mid November (2015 tbc). But hop on a train, a bus or the Centovalley Railway and you can also enjoy the following:

2nd-4th October 2015 / Intra / Chocomoments / Bus or ferry
3rd-4th October 2015 / Arona / Roast chestnuts / Bus, train or ferry
4th October 2015 / Santa Maria Maggiore / 34th "Bruna" Cattle Show / Train + Centovalley Railway
9th-11th October 2015 / Intra / Polenta and stew / Bus or ferry
17th-18 October 2015 / Arona / Roast chestnuts / Bus, train or ferry
17th-18th October 2015 / Santa Maria Maggiore / Squash-Pumpkin Festval / Train + Centovalley Railway

And if you have a car, one of our favourites every year:

18th October 2015 / Nebbiuno / The Transumanza Festival (celebrating the livestock coming down from the summer pastures)

For more events and festivals visit the Lake District Tourist Board website

Cheeses on sale at the Nebbiuno Transumanza 2011
The Stresa Town Trail
Download our town trail and enjoy a stroll around the town centre and along the lakefront whilst learning more about Stresa's history.

Visit Milan and enjoy an Exhibition
Milan is just an hour away by train to either Central or Garibaldi stations. It's only a couple of stops on the metro to the Duomo (Cathedral), the Brera Gallery, the La Scala Museum and the shops! This Autumn/Winter there are also exhibitions of Chagall, Segantini and Van Gogh at the Palazzo Reale. Come and see us for train tickets or email us for times and ticket prices.

Milan Duomo
We hope that we have given you some inspiration on how to enjoy your visit to Stresa in the Autumn. Let us know if you visit this Autumn and what you enjoy the most!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Autumn in Stresa: Foodies Paradise!

I always know that Autumn is here when you see signs along the lake for "Castagnata" (Roast Chestnuts). Local associations in every town or village share equipment and take it in turns to host the local castagnata over two or three weekends in October.

Strolling through the market to the Castagnata
Stresa is no excpetion and on Sunday 7th October Luca and I strolled along the lakefront to one of the two castagnate taking place.

This week it was the turn of Stresa's volunteer fire fighters. There was an artisan market too and as we strolled past the stalls a smoky chestnut and bbq aroma was in the air! Luca quickened his step so that I wouldn't be distracted by the handicraft stalls and local produce.

Everyone enjoying their sausage, polenta and roast chestnuts!
It was a warm and sunny Autumn day and the square was buzzing with activity. The trestle tables were already full and there was a good queue at the "Cassa" (cash desk). As with other local food festivals you choose what you'd like at the cassa and then take your tickets to the various food and drink stations.

Queuing up for roast chestnuts
We went for our usual of a sausage sandwich and a couple of bags of roast chestnuts and took a seat on the edge of the port. That's when I knew it was Autumn. We always sit in the same place and have the same food on the same weekend at the end of season every year. I think it's become a our tradition .... and I love it! The grilled sausage was juicy, the bread roll light and floury and the chestnuts roasted to perfection! The ducks and birds were loving it too, as there were plenty of crumbs and burnt bits of chestnut to be had. Our eyes are always bigger than our bellies so left over chestnuts went in with squash and rosemary to make a very yummy risotto last night!

Stresa's Volunteer Fire Fighters cooking up a storm!
As I said above, the event was run by Stresa's volunteer fire fighters as a fund-raising activity and proceeds go towards new equipment. The Stresa branch of volunteer fire fighters was founded in 1924 when volunteers used to hear about incidents via a loud siren that could be heard all across town. There are about 20 volunteers but at events such as Sunday everyone pulls together and retired members pitch in. They respond to approximately 400 incidents a year including fires, road traffic accidents, search and rescue and even getting rid of hornets nests! 

Roasting the chestnuts
Next weekend (October 14th) it will be the turn of Stresa's Alpine Troops Assocation and I hope to be sat in the same place with my sausage sandwich then too!

If you weren't/aren't able to be in Stresa for either of the castagnate then don't despair  There are more foodie events coming up: Stresa Chocolate Festival 3-4 November, Car Rally with local produce and artisan market 11 November and Stresa Gorgonzola Festival 18 November!

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci