I’ve been in Italy for over a year now, yet last Christmas I was in Lublin, Poland celebrating with my long-lost-maternal family. Both of my mom’s parents were born in Lublin, however my mom was born in Manila, the Philippines. I would be the first one in my family to return to Poland and walk where my grandparents walked. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write about for many years now, but I still have a lot of research to do.
This year I celebrated my first Christmas in Italy: Il pranzo di Natale or Christmas lunch. Even though it’s a lunch, it’s an all-day affair. Finally, the time had arrived for me to experience this traditional gathering, Piemontese style at la Barcaccia (la Bar-cat-cha) in Lago di Candia.
I was intrigued by the name of the restaurant because in Italian, words ending with “ccia” have negative connotations. Barca means boat and my friends assured me that the restaurant’s name was more of a reference to “a boat that is rustic.” The restaurant is located on Lago di Candia and is a part of the Canavese commune of Turin. Candia Canavese is known for its wine, Erbaluce di Caluso and Lago di Candia is located inside the Parco naturale, which is a preserved park.
The view surrounding la Barcaccia is beautiful, even during the winter. At the restaurant we were seated upstairs and had an unobstructed view of nature. Throughout the afternoon the clouds would roll in and then clear, revealing the snow-capped mountains across the other side of the lake.
Menu Highlight: We were served an 11-course meal and my favorite was the Tortino di castelmagno con mostarda d’uva (small tart of Castelmagno cheese with grape mostarda). Castelmagno (Cas-tel-man-yo) cheese is originally from Castelmagno in the province of Cuneo in Piemonte. The production dates back to the 12th century and is now solely produced in the Upper Valle Grana which consists of three communes: Castelmagno, Monterosso Grana and Pradleves. This cheese is characterized as an aged, semi-hard cow milk cheese (with small amounts of sheep and goat milk) with green strains of mold. This is considered to be a very expensive cheese. For a cheese tasting, it makes for a perfect finale and because it melts well it also makes wonderful sauces. Gnocchi al Castelmagno happens to be one of my favorite Piemontese dishes.
Mostarda is a traditional fruit-based condiment from Northern Italy. In Piemonte it’s used as a pairing with cheese and boiled meat. A mostarda has a pungent, “mustardy-essence” which I happen to love. In fact I remember creating a beet-carrot mostarda some years ago for an event at Bee Heaven Farm.
Yes, it was a 5-hour lunch and so naturally every once in while people would opt to take a walk on the pier just outside the restaurant…but not us. And so from where we were sitting, those who were taking a walk on the pier appeared to be walking on water; this is what Giorgia’s father kept saying. We shared many good laughs together and sitting in one place for this length of time you really kind of get to know each other a little bit better. Grazie di cuore or thank you from the heart to my good friend Giorgia and her family for inviting me to share Christmas Day with them.