Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sliced bread and espresso

I went to Heidi land yesterday to do some food shopping. Anytime I have a craving or a need for something exotic – i.e. not Italian – I take a 90 minute drive north. I skirt around Milan on the always hectic and stressful tangenziale (ring road), past Como (with just a two-second view of the lake from up high on the motorway), down into the not so beautiful border town of Chiasso and, finally, into Switzerland, the land of good cheeses, chocolate, clocks and very bad coffee.

What brought me here, you might wonder? In just a few words, white sliced loaf.

Before you ask, and for those who are now thinking I’ve taken leave of my senses, good bread of the sliced variety in Italy is notable for its absence. What does come sliced is usually treated in alcohol and lasts for up to 3 months - not exactly fresh and certainly not something you want to put your Parma ham between! But hey, Italians don’t have a problem with that because they rarely eat sliced bread. I, on the other hand, can’t imagine life without the occasional BLT or little toasted soldiers to dip into my egg or a few slices of retro Melba toast to go with my thick autumnal soups. So, once a month, I visit the very Swiss Sermonata shopping centre in the border town of Mendrisio and stuff my boot with all manner of things I can’t get a few miles down the road in Bell’ Italia!  

A leisurely stroll around both the Co-op and Migros supermarkets resulted in a bill of just over CHF300. The exchange rate is awful at the moment so the bread wasn’t coming cheap! But needless to say, I didn’t just buy sliced bread! When in Switzerland, I like to take advantage of the very international shopping experience that Switzerland offers. You see, in my opinion, there’s no country in the world like Italy when you want a good restaurant. And there’s no country in the world like Italy when you want to do some Italian food shopping (as you’d expect). But, if truth be told, when it comes to buying anything let’s say, not Italian, well, suffice to say that I get into the car and drive to Switzerland.

Exhausted and with a pocket full of Swiss change and a boot loaded to the max with eight loaves of sliced bread, bagels, shortbread, assorted Chinese food stuffs, sweet potatoes, Swiss cheese and a basket of French cheese, pâté, madeleines and wine, I went into a coffee shop within eyeshot of the border checkpoint. I ordered a large café crème (coffee with cream), took a deep swig and almost choked.

As it happens I was standing next to a Swiss border guard who couldn’t help but notice the expression of disgust and incomprehension on my face.
“The coffee’s better there”, he said gesturing to the other side of the border. “I can’t”, he added by way of explanation, “we’re not allowed, not in the uniform”. I looked down at his cappuccino and immediately felt sorry for him. To work so close to the best coffee in the world and have to endure this every day: that’s some kind of punishment. I thanked him for the advice and left my drink unfinished. Life’s too short for bad coffee… besides, from where I was standing I could see a coffee bar in Italy that had a cup of espresso with my name on it! 

True coffee lovers, try out the following liqueur. It’s simple and I can guarantee you, it’s absolutely delicious!

Espresso Liqueur
Liquore al caffé

Makes 1 litre

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: N/A
500ml strong espresso coffee
500g caster sugar
5cm piece of orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla pod
200ml alcohol (a strong clear grappa or vodka will work just as well)

In a heatproof bowl add the caster sugar and the freshly made (very hot) espresso coffee. Stir the mixture until all the sugar has dissolved and then add the spices and orange peel. Leave the mix to cool (this is very important). Once cold, add the alcohol (or grappa/ vodka) and stir. Pour the mixture into a demijohn/ bottle with at least a 1.5 litre capacity. Seal and set aside for 3-4 days in a cool dark place. 

To finish, pour the liqueur through a fine sieve into a bottle, discarding the spices and peel.  Although it can be drunk immediately, the liqueur will improve if you allow the flavour to develop for between 1 and 3 months.

TIP: Serve chilled after dinner or, alternatively, pour a shot of the liqueur over vanilla ice-cream for a delicious and simple adult dessert!


  1. I loved this post Mario. I don't think I will try this recipe, as I am not a liqueur drinker. However, I must add that I really miss sliced bread, and was shocked to discover that the bread that we buy from the supermarket (mainly to use for toast), is treated in alcohol...Oh well, thank goodness for artisan bakers and the many varieties of fresh stuff. I half think it would be a good idea to invest in a bread maker, so I can have home-made, non-alcohol treated fresh bread. Maybe, one day. One thing that I LOVE about Italy, is the coffee. It is excellent.

  2. A bread maker is a great idea Cathy as you are a bit far from Switzerland. Since you don't drink liqueurs, I'll post a coffee cake recipe tomorrow.

  3. Just spotted this and it made me laugh. Why ? I live in Geneva and everytime I want my Italian 'fix' I jump on the train and head south.

    I take 2 wheelie bags with me - one for pizza and another for everything else. I make 2 stops - the first is the supermarket where I stock up on everything from fresh lemons to parmesan. You just can't find lemons the size of ostrich eggs outside of Italy anymore !

    The second is the bakery. Before I make my purchases I usually like to begin with some breakfast. So I'll order the first decent coffee I've had since the last time I was here. Then I'll begin with a bombolone ... maybe 2 .... and follow up with a main course of some of the pizza offerings they have baked fresh that morning. Anything that's left, I buy! and stuff into my second grip bag. I freeze it when I get home. When I'm ready to eat it I reheat it in the oven in some foil. It takes on a different texture .... kind of goes all crispy and oily ..... not the same as eating it fresh but when you need the pizza it works a treat :)

    Anyway, as I said I live in Geneva. Why ? 'Cos I love trees and all things cheese so this seemed as good a place as any to land. Hence, your recipe for a taleggio, porcini and potato bake has caught my eye. I think I'd like to give it a go :) But I was just wondering .... do you think I could use dried porcini instead of fresh ? If I have to go out and buy a fresh porcino mushroom in Switzerland I'll have to forfeit this month's mortgage payment and then the bank gets angry ....

  4. Dried are not going to work as well. You could use frozen porcini or even fresh mixed wild mushrooms. Alternatively, you could put on a pair of hiking boots and take a trip into the mountains - though if you do so I advise you go with someone who knows what they are doing!