I agree, slightly random choice, quite a good little secret and maybe I should keep it that way, but my better nature couldn’t resist sharing this little discovery. I am not sure what possessed Mr.P to divorce Courchevel, maybe he reached saturation level, anyhow, his loyalty wavered, we changed tack and decided to explore other skiing possibilities. This is the second year we have skied in the Dolomites and I can’t help feeling rather smug that we have uncovered a gem.
Stating the obvious, it is in Italy. That gets our family off to a riotous start as guaranteed good food, and superb wine. No shame I’m afraid, we are complete glutons! The skiing is extraordinary, and I say this in a ‘tongue in cheek’ way, as rather naively I had rather passed the skiing off as a little parochial prior to our first trip. Oops, I couldn’t be more wrong! What transpires to be the largest ski area in Europe, covered by the Dolomiti Superski pass, is hardly for the faint hearted. 2100 km of piste to be precise, so that should keep most people busy. However, for me, this is not the major selling point. The most alluring feature of the Dolomites is they are breathtakingly beautiful, and I mean really, really stunning. I have been completely seduced and for once not only by the food.
These mountains are warm, they shine pink in the afternoon sun, they are softer than their neighbouring alpine cousins, in color, angle and aspect. There are trees everywhere, barely a piste exists without scots pine, larch and Christmas trees, and nestled in amongst them are whole families of Alpine huts. Some old, some new, rustic and modern, every shape and size. It is utterly charming, one can only imagine how pretty it must be come summer when the pistes turn over to lush pasture, wild flowers and cows. This is real Heidi country. Which actually is not so far from the truth, after all the valleys of San Cassiano and Corvara were part of Austria till the closing days of World War 1, where an extremely bitter and scarring theatre of war was battled out over a few strategic alpine passes.
Now lets talk about that food and wine, the sole purpose for this rant, as opposed to the super skiing. The white wine is lovely, no need to drink delicious Cervaro when the local Alto Adige region produces fabulous buttery, oaky chardonnay at 20 – 40 euros a bottle. I can’t comment on the local red as I don’t drink it (that’s the red, not the local) but Mr.P maintains it is not memorable, don’t fret though as there is no lack of good simple Tuscans, by Selvapiana, Isole e Olena and Fontodi. Most of the Italians seem to drink Aperol, and you could go native and do the same but it does nothing for me, unlike the hot chocolate, molten, liquid soup, oh so naughty! As for the food, now we’re talking. Vast plates of pasta at 10 euros a shot; lots of venison in every way, carpaccio, ragu, filet, cured meats from countless animals, wild boar featured as did the most succulent and tender veal I have ever been privileged enough to eat. Also on the menu, spatzl, dumplings and goulash soups (there’s the Austrian coming through), wonderful ravioli stuffed with porcini, spinachi, and controversially, beetroot, and obviously lots of pizza. It is much as one would expect, and more, it is well sourced, fine, local, seasonal fare, with smatterings of porcini, truffle and raddichio everywhere, quite divine, I had no complaints.
The mountain huts did not disappoint, plenty of variety for all tastes and a huge range for all budgets, a few smarter restaurants and plenty of everything else in between to the very basic hut. To be fair, there were some real notable exceptions which deserve a mention; the ‘Comici Hut’, unbelievably serves star quality fish and seafood which is trucked up the mountain from the Mercato in Venice each morning. The ‘Averau Hut’, next to the Cinque Torre and famous Lagazuoi Pass, has a tantalising array of homemade pastas, and classic Ladin fare, and ‘Pre De Costa’, in the valley of San Cassiano, makes the most delectable ravioli known to man and I can barely bring myself to mention the Zuppa di Zucca, which was utterly sensational, something I would travel many miles to eat again.
Refreshed, revived, stimulated and inspired. It’s astonishing what 4 days of skiing in the ravishingly beautiful Dolomites, and 4 days of eating and drinking Italian delicacies, can do. Obviously the sun shone, the sky was azure blue and there was buckets of snow. Now it’s back to face the music and the ‘little people’, who will have been spoilt rotten by Granny, and rightfully so. We’ll be in for the high jump, but they’ll be coming next year! Here is a little sunday night supper conceived originally by Diana Henry in a French context, (see ‘House & Garden’, April 2013) and translated by myself into Italian. It is dreamy comfort food.
Mountain Baked Eggs – Italian style
8 leaves of radicchio or red chicory (you can use white chicory if red is not available) finely sliced
4 slices of Parma ham
1 small banana shallot finely diced
2 organic eggs
100 ml double cream
A handful of grated Parmesan
Pre-heat oven to 180.
1. Finely dice the onion and gently fry off with a knob of butter on a gentle heat.
2. Slice the radicchio finely and add to the softened onion with a glug of olive oil, and cook gently for further 5 minutes.
3. Rub some olive oil around the ovenproof dishes, large ramekins would be perfect, or these rustic Italian soup bowls as seen in the photo. Swirl the Parma ham around the outside of the dishes and place the radicchio and onion mix in between, leaving a good size area clear in the middle to crack the egg. Carefully crack the egg into the middle and lightly drizzle the cream around the outside. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and give a good grind of black pepper.
5. Pop in the oven for 10 -15 minutes depending on how cooked you want your egg. Serve with some fresh bread.