Recently, my kids had a break from school and we really needed to get away. We were invited to join a group of her classmates on a ski vacation in the Trentino region of Italy in a small town called Andalo. Nice!
We dragged our feet for a long time before booking our hotel, mostly because of work, but also because of the stress involved in traveling gluten and dairy-free. Actually, the list of intolerable foods for us is quite a bit longer, so we often opt to stay home, rather than endure explaining everything to the wait staff. In the end, we booked four nights at the Ambiez Suite Hotel because they were listed as a certified gluten free establishment. Guests can book pensione completa, meaning for about $50 per day, a family of four can eat three meals at the hotel. I decided to taste the first dinner before deciding.
The first meal and every one to follow were more than absolutely delicious, and that is coming from someone with very high standards. All of the food was not just safe, but incredibly fresh, creative and just as delicious as if we were dining in a top restaurant. Guests chose from a list of four first and second courses each day. For dairy and gluten- free, I marked the dishes I wanted with SG (senza glutine or gluten free) and senza latte (no dairy). I also was able to write in anything else I did not want, like no tomatoes for me (senza pomodoro). There was never a mistake and we did not once feel ill from cross-contamination. Everything was made in house, including an extensive and ever-changing selection of gluten free cakes, pies and pastries. The wait staff also explained that if we didn’t like something on the menu, they would prepare whatever we wanted. One day for lunch, we requested a simple risotto. On the same day, I also asked if I could talk with the chef. There he was, prepping what turned out to be one of the best risotto dishes we had ever tasted.
As it turns out, this amazing chef is also the owner of the hotel, along with his brother, wife and other family members. This family is extremely professional about every aspect of the hotel, including the service, the cleanliness, the furniture, everything. They explained that they decided to get certified gluten free by AIC, the Italian Association for Celiac Disease because the amount of celiacs staying at the hotel was on the rise and they were unprepared to service them the way they wanted. Certification involves a yearly inspection, bi-annual courses and obligatory workshops for all new employees. They showed me the dedicated room where they make all of the gluten free desserts and breads by hand each day. Here are a few of the impressive desserts we tasted.
My daughter was treated like royalty that week, with special plates of appetizers and lots more. She would meet her classmates here in the warm lobby for a pot of tea and a snack in the afternoon while they worked on homework. She was always served first, and her gluten free sandwich, cookies or pastry looked and tasted just as appetizing as what her friends were served.
Everything was perfect that week, so I wanted to share this with you in case you are feeling apprehensive about traveling with gluten intolerance. Many tourists travel to Tuscany, Rome, Venice, but this region of Italy is well-known for their hospitality, good food and excellent service. This is also a great place to hike in the spring and summer and a nice break from the cities. This region is also well-known for apple growing and the chef graciously shared his recipe with me.
Gluten Free Trentino Apple Cake
- 5 tart apples, peeled, cored and cut in ¼- inch slices
- juice and zest of ½ large lemon
- ½ cup (60g) hazelnuts, ground finely
- 1 cup (200g) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup (125g) plain yogurt or kefir
- 5 tablespoons (70g) butter, melted and cooled
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ cups (200g) of gluten free flour or I used (¾ cup (120g) brown rice flour + ½ cup (60g) fine corn flour + scant ¼ cup (20g) tapioca starch)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform or cake pan.
- In a medium bowl, combine apples with lemon juice. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix together hazelnuts, 1 cup of sugar, and lemon zest.
- Beat in eggs, yogurt, and butter with sugar mixture.
- Fold in baking powder and gluten free flour and stir until smooth.
- Mix in the apples until completely incorporated in the batter.
- Pour in the baking pan. Dust with remaining sugar.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Note: The original recipe was dairy free, made with soy yogurt and margarine.
If traveling gluten free to Italy is something you are considering, we would love to host you ourselves at the villa in Lucca on our next culinary getaway. Learn more.