On domenica I helped my friend Vera reach her dream!! Who would think I could ever do such a thing? But, when I tell you her dream it will be clearer. She told me her dream was to cook a whole turkey…tacchino in Italian. Last year I invited Vera and her family to a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Her two girls were spellbound by the whole turkey. Turkey is eaten here but only in pieces. Like a drumstick, or a breast, or slices. And Italians are notoriously unwelcoming to the unknown. Vera and her immediate family are different. They welcome different things. So, her dream was to cook and serve a turkey to her more extended family. And she needed my help. Ahem.
It was quite an experience. I got up at 5am and got ready and arrived by 6am. It was soooo foggy! I had a hard time driving there. We prepped the turkey (guessing it was 16-17 lbs) with butter and layered pancetta and stuffed it with orange and onion. Salted it and toted it down to the forno (outside wood oven) which Vera had been fueling all night. This was also a new thing for me and I was none too sure how hot it was nor how long to cook the turkey of unknown weight! Oy. So when we approached the forno it was smoking like mad. She said “uh oh”. When she opened the door a blast of flame came out and she ducked! Wowsers! So we decided it had to wait till the oven cooled for her to put it in. I left her with it. Of course the suocera (mother-in-law) had to get involved later, adding oil and wine to the pan. It was OK really.
So I returned about 11am and we went to check the bird. I had an instant read thermometer. It was a little overdone but not bad. We took it upstairs to rest. Then I made the gravy from the drippings and the broth Vera had made from the turkey bits. Malia and Desiree, her daughters were mesmerized. I had brought the stuffing I made from home. And frozen-from-last-year cranberry sauce. And Vera had boiled potatoes which I mashed with milk and butter. She also had spinach and kale for veggies. And, just in case someone wouldn’t eat the tacchino she made cinghale ragu. She served it as a first course with pasta. It was wonderful!
In attendance there were Vera, her husband Graziano, and the two girls, Vera’s dad, Graziano’s brother and his wife with tiny baby and their other daughter, and la Nonna (grandmother). Il Nonno (grandfather) was hunting boar. Vera had said the wife of the brother wouldn’t eat the turkey. But she was pretty enthusiastic. She loved the turkey, dressing and the cranberry sauce. La Nonna brought a scrumptious dessert. I’ve had two of her desserts now and she is amazing! Sooo good. I could have eaten several pieces!😋
Such a fun time with our Italian friends and an American feast. Always an adventure.
I had fun! I think most everyone had fun. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Ely had an appointment at Frantoio Rossi at 7AM. She was second in line and good thing as it got crowded fast!!
The olives go into these tanks where a really big screw type dasher swirls them round and round.
While we waited I took a few pictures of the process. This is the big dumpster where the sludge is collected. I was told it is made into animal food. The black heap is the sludge which falls from those three holes up by the ceiling.
Finally our waiting has produced the results of a lot of labor. We helped just two days. Ely and Albie all by themselves worked the grove for four more full days. Ending up with 40 more cassetti coming in at 880 kilograms and 121 liters of oil!
I will post again once I get some of this oil and taste it. Such a fun experience.
In Umbria, olives are a way of life. The oil is amazing with grassy, peppery notes in your mouth. You drizzle it on bruschetta, meats, vegetables, soups and salads. Everyone in Umbria either has an olive grove or knows someone who has an olive grove who needs help with the harvest. It seems everyone gets involved. It is very inclusive and a real way of life here. The olives are all colors.
This is my second olive harvest. It’s been 3 years since my first one so I’m not a total newbie! There are about 70 trees spread out over the property which is beautiful, by the way. It is up above Calagrana, our friends Agriturismo.
We did the bottom field first. We started out being 12 people but by the end we were 9. A couple of the trees were definite overachievers. Just loaded with olives! It is a really full day of work. We help them set the nets under the trees, dragging them about and putting supports at the bottoms to keep the olives from rolling off. Then we use little rakes to rake the olives off the branches reaching as high as we can. Meanwhile someone works the “basher” which beats the upper branches to shake the olives down. Then you have to lift the nets and roll all the olives together and put them into plastic crates called cassetti. Physical labor all on hillsides so lots of up and down walking. I am proud to say I did it! For two full days! Not bad for an old broad.
When you participate in an olive harvest, there’s no telling what will happen. Our group started singing Mary Poppins songs. Turns out several of us knew all the words!! Chimchimanee, I Love to Laugh, Feed the Birds… fun!
By the end of the first day we had harvested less than half the trees and had 43 boxes of olives. A bountiful harvest! We had run out of boxes, and it was getting dark so the end of a productive day. Plan is to take the boxes to the Frantoio, or olive mill, and press them and return Monday for a final pass at the trees. There are some totally loaded trees on the upper slopes. Then they will take the rest to the mill for pressing. A real bumper crop this year.
We had a lovely after harvest dinner. Albi had prepared chili con carne for us all. Excellent and the perfect thing to fill our empty stomachs after a hard days work.
Monday we worked a second full day in the olive grove. Ely will pick again tomorrow and Wednesday. There are so many trees still to do. She went to the mill this morning with Saturday’s harvest which weighed in at 950 kilos and yielded 132 liters of oil and she says it is really good. Peppery and grassy. Just the way I like it 😋 This day we picked half again as many (with only 5 people) so should get another 60 liters and whatever else she does back to the mill. I took a tumble as did little Olie as the nets were wet and on a very steep slop. My feet would slide downhill. I could get no purchase. SO I decided to take a couple pictures of this amazing property. Autumn colors.
I’m going to the mill to take pictures Thursday with Ely for the final press. Second blog to come on that.
Halloween is starting to catch on here but it isn’t like our US holiday. Just about dark the kids come out dressed in costumes. Mostly witches, princesses and super heroes. The difference is that they don’t ring doorbells at houses but go into the little merchant shops and bars along the streets. The proprietors are prepared with candy.
Only in the fall can you find porcini freschi or fresh, not dried, porcini mushrooms. And only sometimes! At the Wednesday market I found them and bought three. Not cheap at about €15 for the three. I let the woman pick them for me; firm with the earth still on the bottoms. I need to change my dinner plans, I thought to myself, as they do not keep. Eat the day you find, or buy them. Porcini are loved everywhere, called Steinpilzen in Germany and Cepes in France they are usually foraged in the woods, never cultivated. Here they are!
Luther is not a mushroom fan but he must indulge me sometimes. Last night I made these beauties into a lovely pasta. Quite easy and I wish I’d thought to take more pictures.
I sautéed pancetta (bacon can be substituted) and minced a couple of garlic cloves which I added with the sliced porcini to sauté. The mushrooms give up their liquid and cook down. I added a little white wine to deglaze the pan and then a dollop of cream 🙂 . I cooked the fettuccini until almost al dente and added to the sauce to finish. Sprinkle with pecorino romana. Mmmm mmmmm good! A wonder in the autumn.🍁
Another autumnal favorite – chestnuts! You will see them roasting in the piazza most Sunday evenings. My friend Angela gave me a basketful. They will be roasted but scoring them with a knife is a difficult process! Maybe they will go into stuffing eventually.
We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.
We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.
The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.
After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.
After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.
On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.
That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.
Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.
We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.
Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.
The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.
While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…
It is so funny how ready I am to make soups and stews as soon as the weather turns. Today, it being Wednesday, was market day in Umbertide. Many of the fall vegetables are now abundant. I had a left over chicken carcass from last night so decided to make stock. Since I was doing that I decided to get ingredients for soup. Borlotti beans are everywhere. In English they are cranberry beans I think. So pretty. Red and white inside and out. Sadly the cooked beans lose their color. But they taste great. Into the soup pot they will go.
I thought they would go well with the beans. These legumes must be soaked for 24 hours and the soaking water discarded because it contains a neurotoxin. After soaking most of the toxin is removed, but they are not to be eaten often. Only as a special treat. We just have them occasionally. In the past, when peasants in this area had nothing else to eat they ate these everyday. They will grow anywhere and withstand all manner of weather. So oftentimes it was the only thing thing they had. Because of that people got a condition called Lathyrus.
Once my cicerchie are soaked I will precook for about 30 minutes. Then they will go into the soup with the borlotti beans. First I’ll sauté the soffritto in olive oil. It’s the holy trinity of celery, onion and carrot. It is also called mirepoix in French. I think every country has their version. In the grocery store you can buy containers of these three ingredients in the produce section, all ready for soup, stew or pasta.
Into the pot will go garlic, a can of whole tomatoes chopped, parsley and some sliced cabbage (or any green leafy vegetable). Then the beans, cicerchie and the chicken stock. Cook for 45 minutes or so and then add in a handful of pasta and cook until done. Any shape will do. Salt, pepper, drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese if you want.
Sorry about the post of this without the pictures. Operator error!
Another trip report….
Tuesday, September 18
We traveled from Umbria across Tuscany and up into Liguria today. First big, exciting thing was our stop for lunch at the Autogrill. EXCELLENT lunch. We finished our beer and wine and enjoyed the ambiance. We love the Autogrill. We also passed Carrara which is where most of the Italian marble comes from. The mountain, where they quarry it is snow white. And the quarries are huge! On the way home I’m going to stop there for a photo. Michelangelo went there to get the marble for his sculptures, la Pieta and David.
Since the horrible disaster in Genova with the bridge collapse, traffic is all messed up getting past there. We opted to follow the detour signs and ended up on a 100 kilometer detour! Added at least an hour to our trip. We arrived at our hotel and checked in, happy to be there. Our room is excellent. I got lazy and just looked for Relaise e Chateau properties for our two nights out and two nights back. They are a group and pretty upscale. This one wasn’t too bad. I got 20% off by paying in advance. It made a difference so we got the junior suite with balcony. It’s nice.
First night hotel. Nice room. La Meridiana Hotel in Garlenda, a golf and horse enclave.
Gift upon arrival. A snack.
We had dinner in the restaurant which was pretty pricey. I didn’t have prices in my menu. I really hate that. Food was good but not exceptional. I had gamberi in a beet sauce and tuna chunks with crisp fried eggplant. Wine was Ligurian so interesting. But what they are really proud of is their olive oil. All the hills along the coast are covered with trees. We told the waiter we were from Umbria and loved our oil best. He explained it and Tuscan oil were too strong. I opined that I liked the strong tastes. He brought us each a small dish of their oil. It was very light. You could barely taste the olives. It was delicate and went with milder foods which I can understand. Our oil goes with strong tastes like beef and stews and soups. An interesting tasting lesson.
Wednesday September 19
Overslept this morning! They closed all the shutters and drapes when they did turn down so we didn’t realize the time! 🙄 we headed out to explore the Italian Riviera. We followed the SS1 which is the Appian Way all the way to Rome. A small two lane along the ocean and through the middle of all the little seaside towns. Once, it was the only way to travel through this area. Now the big autostrada A10 which is comprised of bridges and tunnels mostly, high above the coast and towns takes you quickly through. But we enjoyed the slow pace with the top down.
Many towns very congested. Lots of beaches. But the towns were different. We finally stopped in Rive Liguria which is a very small, calm seaside town. We had lunch in Ristorante Dalla Padella alla Brace. Out of the frying pan, into the fire! It had a nice seaside undercover area. My food started OK with octopus carpaccio with potatoes and olive paste. Quite good. But my Spaghetti con Vongole was a problem. After eating about 1/3 I felt something abrasive in my throat which I managed to cough out…a wire. Then I found another. It looked like steel wool bits. They said the helper had cleaned the clams with steel wool. I said it was not a good idea 🙄. So my lunch was less then satisfactory.
We returned via the A10 in a trice and headed to the IperCoop for a picnic dinner to be eaten in our room tonight. Now it is time for reading, relaxing, and enjoying our room.
Thursday, September 20
Up and out the door by 9:30 because it’s about a 6 hour drive. We made the drive uneventfully. We stopped for lunch (Hippo Burgers) at the Hippopotamus in a rest area. Nice restaurant actually.
We arrived in Carcassonne in the afternoon but hadn’t heard from our landlord so things were iffy. We went to the addrsss but it was in a tiny street and we went the wrong way up a one way thanks to our GPS. 😑 finally I called the owner in England and we managed to check in eventually. Then we had a very hard time finding a grocery. But we did finally. There are small ones nearby which we will explore later. After the epic drive, tomorrow is a planned down day.
Friday, September 21
This day we decided to do a walking tour of the old city of Carcassonne. There is also a vibrant city just across the river from us, the Bastide. And another surprise, the Canale du Midi goes right through town. Lots of barges and boats parked alongside. There’s a lock that they all have to navigate. It’s a pretty canal.
Our apartment is just beneath the walls and towers of the old city. A long stone staircase goes up just near our apartment. We went up it and at the top we were at the optimal viewing spot for the art installation on the walls. We had seen this from a distance and wondered at it. When you view from this spot you can see the actual design. It is not paint. It is tape.
We first viewed an excellent movie with a quick history of the city. We wended our way through the walls where there were a number of signs explaining in French and English the history and what we were seeing. The history is long and convoluted. And to confuse things further much of the castle was restored/recreated in the 1800s. The man responsible was as good as it gets and did the best he could given the times. The castle had such a history that he had to chose a point in time to which he restored it.
We went to lunch at a tapas place with wines. It was small and very popular. The morning had been very cool, windy, and gray skies threatened rain. We opted for the inside seat in the window. Good place to watch people. We both had the chorizo in BBQ sauce and I had the patates bravas. Local red wine. And I even broke my rule and had the pain perdu for dessert. We continued our walking tour. We visited the beautiful cathedral. It was so reminiscent of St. Chapelle. Not as many windows but super tall and colorful and a lot of them. Two rose windows. All were created in the 1200s and 1300s.
We also did some souvenir shopping for our friends. A cake of wonderful soap, and two pretty bracelets made of polished stones with silver beads. I also got some wind chimes which I’ve missed since my old ones fell apart many years ago.
Tonight we will picnic in again. French TV is definitely worse than Italian in my opinion. Ugh.
Saturday, September 22
Gorgeous Saturday morning! Breezy and perfect. We decided to explore the “other” old town of Carcassone. We walked down our street to where the Pont Vieux begins. It’s the old way into town across the Narbonne river. At the other end you pass the old hospital. In the Middle Ages you were checked before you could enter the town for disease. If you were deemed sick you could go in the hospital or leave. It’s a pretty bridge.
Saturday is market day in Carcassonne. We headed into town. What a vibrant place!!
Tons of people all about. A lot of locals. But we also heard a lot of Brits. And a couple of Americans. The streets all blocked off except for pedestrians. They have a beautiful street exhibition with hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas suspended over the main streets.
Then we arrived at the market. Wonderful! We compared the differences with the Italian ones. Here there are none of the big veggie stands that go from town to town like in Italy. Here the stands each are focused on a single thing. Like one was all garlic! One was all mushrooms. Some were all vegetables. Some were only eggs. Or cheese. Or bread. It was lovely. I bought a big loaf of bread. We continued down some streets radiating from the main square. We came upon a goat cheese stand. And they sold milk from a tank. You brought your own milk bottles and they filled them for you!
Then we went into a market inside of a huge building. This one was all meats and fish. Stand after stand. All manner of meats. The French do like their offal. The fish looked beautiful and I was drooling with envy over the piles of oysters. Sigh. I do miss oysters.
We also hit a couple of wine stores here and there. We then settled into a table to rest ourselves with a glass of wine and/or beer. And good people watching. It struck noon and we watched the vendors begin to dismantle their stands. We headed off to find lunch but our first choice was fully booked. Sadly as it looked great. We ended up at Freaks. It was pretty good. Unusual. Lots of healthy stuff. I had a cured fish and potato salad thing with lots of sprouts and lettuces. Luther had quinoa and lots of lettuces etc. We had a carafe of the local red wine and coffees. It was a nice and less filling lunch.
This night we decided to have the cassoulet. We bought it in a can. They sell it everywhere in containers. The Langdoc, where we are, is famous for this dish. Also foie gras. Sadly as I do have difficulty with the way this is produced. But it is what it is.
Sunday, September 23
Another beautiful morning. Today we had made reservations for a lunch up in the old fortress town in a Michelin one star restaurant in the nice hotel up there. Beautiful garden. Big trees. Breezy.
On Sunday they have a 3 course prix fix menu. Choice of two starters, two entrees, and two desserts or cheese. Comes with a welcome spritz, two glasses of wine, water and coffee. For €39 a person. For a fancy restaurant that’s not bad. I had a poached fresh egg, with truffles, mushrooms, and more I can’t remember, onglet of beef with Cabernet mayo, itty bitty pickled mushrooms, roasted tomatoes. There was an amuse bouche with three tastes, and good breads. Dessert was pain perdu for me, cheese for luther. Excellent food and full enough not to need a lot of dinner.
Luther is enjoying watching the old Avengers TV shows on French TV every night🙄 In French with French subtitles. We had some cured ham, cheese and olives for dinner.
Monday, September 24
We decided to go for a drive today since we’ve been sticking pretty close to Carcassonne. Chose a 100km driving route toward Narbonne. It was on the Plain of Minervois. It was once a sea but now is called a dried up lake. They grow wine and rice there now. We sort of followed the Canal du Midi. Really pretty and so many boats. You can rent a boat and cruise the canals.
We finished our tour and went looking for lunch. Oddly, the little French towns don’t have much in them. No stores or restaurants. I did see a Post office and of course a school. All the kids were out at recess and spied our car coming. They were so excited! We beeped our horn at them creating pandemonium! Anyway, we headed up towards the low mountains to the north to Minerve. Really cute town built of stone and perched above the gorge cut by the Brian and the Cesse rivers. It has a history. It was an old Cathar bastion that was destroyed by Simon de Montfort in 1210 and the village has a column in memory of a stake at which 140 Cathars were burnt at that time. Minerve is also famous for its wine that has been produced here by local winegrowers for centuries.
We had a lovely lunch at the Les Table des Troubadours. High up above the gorge with nice views. We were on the terrace which is covered with grape vines and umbrellas. It was crowded with mostly bikers. But it didn’t slow things down much. They have a set Menu du Jour and another menu on a chalk board. We chose entrecôte which came with roast potatoes and ratatouille. Perfectly cooked. Also got a small bottle of white wine and a small bottle of red. Both house and both good. It was very windy and grapes kept falling on us as we ate! It was fun.
We headed back to Carcassonne. A really nice day away from the city. Tomorrow we head back to Italy.
Tuesday, September 25
Up and out the door by eight. Pierre was there to take the keys. It was a long day on the road. Stopped for panini just into Italy. Used Google maps on the iPad to navigate through Genova, instead of the 100 kilometer detour our car GPS sent us on when we came last week. We drove right past the bridge that collapsed. Eerie to see the two spans with the big, missing section. Found our hotel Il Bottaccio. It is just next to Carrera where the largest marble mines exist. They’ve been taking marble out of the mountain since Roman times. The mountain is amazing. It is surrounded by smaller forested mountains but the marble mountain has not a trace of soil on it, nor a tree. Just a massive chunk of limestone and marble thrust into the sky thousands of feet. Awesome.
Our hotel is very frufru. Our room is enormous. Twice the size of our living room and dining room. It’s in an old olive mill. I think we are the only guests. It’s owned by an art collector and I think they don’t actually need for it to be profitable.
We had dinner in the dining room and it was very good despite all the bad reviews I read. We had an amuse bouche of bisque with truffles and shrimp. Then I had the scallops with Lardo di Colonnata. This town is just next to us. Famous for the marble mines, chestnut trees and pork products. The Lardo is back fat from the pigs which is aged for months in big marble containers along with spices. The dish I had also had truffles and caviar which were unnecessary. Then I had the house made pici which is the traditional Tuscan pasta shaped like fat spaghetti. It came with a fresh very tomatoe-y sauce. Simple but very good. Luther got sausage stuffed pasta and then lamb. He said they were good.
We decided to head home today as we are ready. The hotel won’t mind since we paid for the room already. So Home agin, Home agin, jiggety jog! Always good to return home and I’m sure our cats will agree.
I’ve begun a walking regime since my knee is still recovering and I figure walking will help both it, and the rest of me! So, sometimes I combine the walk with an errand or two I need to run. Today, I needed to visit the post office. Always a treat 😏. The following is the trip in photos.
020 – that’s me! Finito! Successfully mailed my package.
Umbertide has everything we need. Some of it is not so pretty but it is functional unlike some of those pretty hill towns. They usually are all looks and no substance.