Author Archives: Nancy Hampton

Sunday lunch in Montone

It was one of the 10 most beautiful days in all eternity yesterday. I’ve never seen it so clear. Temperatures in the 70s F. We had already planned to go to Antica Osteria in Montone for lunch so off we went. Montone is the nearby hill town. It is only about 10 minutes from our house. It is a beautiful stone and brick village which is very tidy and well cared for. They are famous for their annual film festival. It was started by one of the Monte Python people who lives in Montone part of the year. All 800 residents work for a week to put on the festival. They have 4 big screens set up around town and each as it’s own little restaurant and bar manned by the citidine. Anyway, I took a few pictures of the town, of course!

One of many gates into town. We chose to enter through this one.
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The clock tower above the main square, which is quite small but still manages to have a restaurant and a bar and a Tabacchi. The bells ring every quarter hour.
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View from our outside table in the square.
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My carpaccio starter.
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I think this is the first time I’ve had lamb chops since we moved here. These were good but I like them a bit rarer than they were. Served on arugula salad with tomatoes.
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We bumped into friends who ate near us and brought Monte along. He looks bored.
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On the way out of town. Pretty vista.
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And here is the town as we drove past it after we had gone down the hill. Perches right on top of two hills.
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Kilometer zero market

Beautiful weather has brought EVERYONE outside for the Kilometer zero market. I’ve mentioned it before but to explain again, it is a market of only local and self producing or growing vendors. Diverse but much smaller than the Wednesday market. I bought a jar of tiny preserved artichokes and the nice lady gave a jar of asparagus paste to put on bread, fish, chicken, just about anything. I also browsed through all the stands, thoroughly enjoying the scene.

Items for sale by the nice Senora
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The local Alpaca farm called Maridana Alpaca brought in their wares. All natural colors of the Alpacas.
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The baker from Citta di Castello is always at this market with pizza bread, focaccia, breads, donuts(!) and sweets.bread

Next weekend is Pasqua which is Easter. Everywhere you go there are small to giant chocolate eggs and specialized cakes and biscotti. This is a cake all wrapped up and ready to go! Today is Palm Sunday and I was treated to a lovely bell serenade from the big bells in the old church on the Piazza. They are wonderful.easter_cake

This is my favorite greens and vegetable man. He also sells herbs and plants for the garden.greens

Local honey and products of the bees.honey

Black kale is what the sign says but I’ve never seen any like this before. I didn’t buy it. I think you’d prepare it like any cavolo nero.
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And here is the Slow Food booth. They had all sorts of free food for the taking. I tried that square cake. It was apple and super moist.   slow_food

Anyway, that was my day at the market. And later that afternoon me made the Passagiata (stroll through town) along with a bazillion Italians. Then sat in Bar Mary to have an aperitivo and watch the action. We are happy it’s spring!

Torino-Turin

Last week we took a short jaunt to Torino which is the capital of the Piedmonte region of Italy. It is also home of the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is only viewable occasionally and was not while we were there. That was OK as I didn’t really want to see it.

We rented an apartment from VRBO. it was a spacious one bedroom with large modern bath, living room and small kitchen. It also had a nice balcony. Unfortunately we had quite a bit of rain while there so the balcony was not usable. We were, however, in a perfect location right in one of the main piazzas and just next to the Egyptian museum. I did not take any pictures of the city mainly because of the weather. Torino is the headquarters of Fiat so outside the Centro is quite industrial. It is also the birthplace of the Slow Food movement.

Since it was raining a lot we spent a lot of time in the museums. The Eqyptian Museum is said to be the 2nd best in the world. It was pretty spectacular. Some of the many pictures.

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We had a light lunch at Enoteca. Yummy burrata salad.

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We also visited the museum of the Cinema. In the early days of the movies Torino had more than 100 movie studios. The museum was in a spectacular dome shaped building which had kind of a free style elevator. There was a square hole in the floor and in the ceiling. The elevator was all glass and appeared and disappeared through these holes, hanging from the cables through the center of the dome. Here are a couple of pictures. IMG_0055_sm IMG_0054_sm

This is the museum within the dome. IMG_0048_sm

We had two nice dinners while there, one at Del Cambio and the other at Ristorante Solferino. Solferino specialized in Piedmontese specialties. Del Cambio was a one star Michelin restaurant. Excellent everything here.

We went there and back on the train. Intercity from here to Florence and then the fast FrecciaRossa from there. I liked Torino. I did not love it. I don’t know that I would go back.

Gorgeous Saturday

We are just back from a three night trip to Torino (Turin). I will post about it soon. But today we are just enjoying this beautiful spring weather. Everyone is out and about and Umbertide is coming alive after the long hibernation. I bought some more asparagus today. This time it is wild asparagus that people around here go out in the fields and woods and forage. I am looking forward to trying it tonight.  I am now using my new Canon EOS 100D camera. Takes nice pictures! Click to see larger versions.

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I also got a tip from a friend about a butcher I had never tried. I don’t know why I hadn’t as it is very close to us. Perhaps because there is a large butcher just before you get to it that I always went to to buy our meat. This butcher shop is quite small. The selection is different too. They always stock Pork Belly or Pancetta in big slabs. I got to try it recently and it was melt in your mouth good with great cracklin’ skin. They also always have lamb and of course beef and chicken. I decided on a pork leg and first seared in the oven, then slow cooked it. We will eat it tonight.

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This time of year is artichoke season. I do love them. But I don’t buy them like the Italians do! they get dozens at a time! Goodness knows what they do to them. I’d like to know!artichokes

And these are the beautiful “famous onions of Canarra”. They are very sweet. Two people come with their van every week. A very old man and a young man who must be his grandson. They are very nice and I always tell them buongiorno even if I’m not buying that day. The onions are beautifully braided. I buy whole ropes of them. They are perfect on salads and roasted. They also caramelize like a dream.onions

This is the old man. I’m sorry his face is in shadow. It was a very sunny day. His grandson is in the van behind him braiding more onions.

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We made it!

Well it’s here…March. Meteorological spring. And it shows. The winter wheat is brilliant green. The forsythia is blooming. And I found some new things in the Wednesday market.

First, a picture from my kitchen door. Still wintery mountains but blue skies and the temperatures are reaching the 60s sometimes.
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I’ve seen agretti, or monks beard, always the first spring vegetable we see. Since Luther is not fond I don’t buy it but it’s a real delicacy only found in central Italy. This week I found asparagus! The first of the season. I asked the lady selling it where it came from and she said Spoleto which is here in Umbria. So I bought some!
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I also found these small cartons of tomatoes. They were grown in Sicily and reminded me of the Cherokee Purple variety. It also says on the carton I can see who grew my tomatoes on their website!
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I bought a new camera so I need to come up to speed on it so I can again post good pictures. We’ve also been doing our beginning of the year chores. Signing up for our health care this year was a royal pain. Normally we just take our social security statements in and pay our money. This year they told us they needed our paper to have a stamp on it from our American embassy in Rome. All of the stranieri were scuttling about trying to figure out how to do this but finally, after a phone call we managed to get it sorted. The Social Security section of our embassy has all our records…a surprise to me…so they were able to stamp it and send it to us via the Poste Italiane. So that’s done.

We also are starting to go through the process of getting our Permessi di Sogiorno renewed for the coming year. The fees have actually dropped this year to about 60 Euro each down from about 130 Euro last year. There also  seems to be another thing or two changed so we will have to wait and see.

Next week we again are trying to get our Italian driving licenses. This has been an ongoing saga. Stay tuned!

 

Pranzo

Last Sunday we were happy to join Alberto the chef at Calagrana, the nearby Agriturismo, for Sunday lunch. Ely is in England tending to her Mom. We missed her. But we enjoyed Alberto’s “old fashioned lunch”. It consisted of a starter of lasagna bolognese (no picture – ate it before I thought!). He said it was his grandmothers recipe. Next we had steak Diane. It brought back memories of my sister making this for my mother. It is traditionally made tableside.

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Then we had a Lemon Padlova which was unfamiliar to me but was excellent.
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Archie is the resident terrier and happy to visit.
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Last week, I was craving banana pudding but realized I could never make it here without Nilla Vanilla wafers. BUT! I remembered a resource I had not tried called My American Market based in Europe to provide Expats with ingredients they are craving. Once I got on their site I couldn’t resist the other items and figured it was worth it to buy them all at once! Sure!
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Here’s my haul. Pam is something I’ve been wanting for ages. You cannot bring aerosol cans on airplanes so there was no way to get it here.
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Mid-winter trip

To break up our cold, dreary winter we decided to go on a little 3 night trip to Venice. I have been five times before but never in the winter. Everyone says it’s better in winter because it doesn’t smell. I say, balderdash! I have been in hot June and never ever picked up any odor from the canals. A bum wrap for sure.

We took the regional train from nearby Terontola to Florence. There we got the fast Frecciarosa train. It has 4 classes of travel. We opted for Business, one step down from top. It was a lovely quiet trip as no one was in our entire car but us! Arrived in 3.5 hours. Low stress.

We arrived in Venice around 3:30 PM and took the Vaporetto number 1 which goes all the way down the Grand Canal. Here’s the bustling Grand Canal at the train station.
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We got off at Ca’ Rezzonico. This we were told to do by the people we rented our flat from. Julia, a nice college student, met us there and showed us the way. And then she showed us around the apartment. It was a one bedroom, living room, kitchen and bath. Nice enough if a bit dark. There were only two windows and the Living Room had no window at all. Kind of cave-like. It was, however, in our neighborhood of choice, the Dorsoduro.

Vegetable boat.
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Our neighborhood. Loved this yellow building.
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During our trip we visited the Peggy Guggenheim museum mainly to see the Tancredi Parmegiani exhibit. He was an abstract artist from about 1946-1964. Amazing works and very diverse. He became a protege of Peggy Guggenheim. She probably made his career. He was very talented…and troubled. He committed suicide in 1964. We also visited the Accademia Museo. It was full of many religious paintings plus some non-secular works to include a small exhibit of Hieronymous Bosch. Here are some of the sights along the way.
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Our efforts to find good food were thwarted several times. The first dinner, we tried to go to a place advertised as open…but they were on winter vacation. A hazard when traveling in the winter I guess. We settled on a place nearby which was average at best. Next day we tried to go the Ennotecca San Marco and they were closed for renovation. Drat. We ended up near La Fenice at a place called Vino Vino. We figured it would be bad but it was quite nice with nice servers and decent food and wine. Here’s the interior. Early brothel decor.
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That evening we got lucky and got in one of our choices, Estro Vino e Cucina. Quite good wine bar with food. And on the last day we had a wonderful time meeting with our friend Jed and his husband Simone who live in nearby Treviso. We had a lovely dinner at Anice Stellato, their recommendation. Fun to see them.

Our weather was sunny all the way through. It was pretty cold though. Blustery sometimes, but in the sun it was pleasant. Some cold, looking tourists on a Gondola ride.
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Sunday Pranzo!

Yesterday we went out for Sunday lunch, an important part of an Italian week. We have been trying a few new restaurants that I read about in a magazine article in a Perugia magazine. Yesterday we tried one called La Forchetta Bistro in the small town of Ponte San Giovanni south of us. There are scores of little towns between Umbertide and Perugia but we always just go speeding past on the E45 heading to somewhere else.

The little town is on the main TrenItalia train line and has an old covered type bridge over the Tiber. It was our first visit to La Forchetta Bistro. We opted to try out the tasting menu at 40€ a person. This included four courses plus dessert. The dining room is bright and sunny with very high ceilings partly divided by a high brick arch. The two people serving us were perfect. Friendly, helpful and the pacing was perfect. Here are some pictures of our amazing food.

Bacala mousse with fried polenta and carmelized tomato coulis. Bacala is a local specialty made from dried salt cod.
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Scallops with fried “hats” and mashed potato which had some spice
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Gnocchi over broccoli purée, with mussels and bits of steamed broccoli. This was the most filling dish.
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Marinated trout served like a Picasso painting with schmears of puréed red cabbage, something orange and dots of green and olive oil. Oh and crunchy fried spinach.
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Finally there were five desserts. We got pears poached in red wine surrounded by chantilly cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Divine.

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As you can see all of the presentations were beautiful. It was a surprise in such a small little village and well worth a special trip.

Winter snow

Winter here in Italy has been brutal so far. Friend in Abruzzo, next region to us, had 3 feet of snow! Other friends way down south in Basilicata and Campagna are also slammed with frozen water pipes and lots of snow. Yesterday earthquakes south of us triggered a tragic avalanche in Abruzzo which completely buried a hotel. 4 dead and 27 missing so far. We felt the quakes here but they were not strong. There were 10 quakes in the last 24 hours.

We have had our first snow. It was only a dusting but probably the most I’ve seen here since we came. I heard it was much worse up in the hills surrounding us. Still it was pretty.

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Montone is the hill town nearby. This is the mountain upon which it sits. It was snowing so the view is softened.DSC06612

Luther wanted a steak yesterday. Cuts here are very different from the US but this one is familiar. Here it is called a Contrafiletto. In the US it is a ribeye. Ready to grill!DSC06615

The fire was welcome in more ways that one. It warmed my frigid kitchen up and I sat close by to enjoy the warmth. It also cooked our dinner of steak and two potatoes wrapped in foil and embedded in the coals.
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Finished product. It was pretty good. They don’t finish beef on grain here so it is not as marbled. Hence it is not as tender. Good flavor though.DSC06618