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!
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.
The local Alpaca farm called Maridana Alpaca brought in their wares. All natural colors of the Alpacas.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
Archie is the resident terrier and happy to visit.
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!
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.
Finally there were five desserts. We got pears poached in red wine surrounded by chantilly cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Divine.
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 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.
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.
Today is Epifania or Epiphany in English. I looked this up…”On January 6 the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Epiphany. This religious feast brings a fulfillment of all the purposes of Advent. Epiphany, therefore, marks the end of the Advent-Christmas season. Three mysteries are encompassed in this solemnity: the adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi, the Baptism of Christ and the wedding feast at Cana. Epiphany is also known as Three Kings’ Day, in other branches of Christianity. A Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.”
Here in Umbertide we also celebrate Befana, the Christmas witch. Amusingly, she arrives in an Ape, a three wheel truck-type vehicle. She distributes candy! I took her photo and she gave me candy! I must have been good this year. Here she is!
In Italian folklore she is thought to have originated in central Italy near where we live. Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus. Since before Babbo Natale arrived on the scene, Italian children have been celebrating the annual visit of La Befana.
Befana is said to visit all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney.
According to legend Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Christ child was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she said no, that she was too busy with her housework and sweeping up. Later, la Befana had a change of heart, and she tried to search out the location of the baby Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so forever after, la Befana has been flying over the grapevines and olive trees searching for the little baby and leaving children candy in hopes the Christ child is there.
There are many different versions of this legend to this day, some darker than the above. One tells that la Befana was mother to a child that died, and she went mad with grief. When Jesus was born, she sought him out. She thought that he was her child. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave la Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.
Now la Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, and she has become a national icon. In the regions of the Marches, Umbria and Latium, her figure is associated with the Papal States, where the Epiphany held the most importance.
You can find images of la Befana all through Italy. She is not romanticized, she is an ugly hag with missing teeth and a torn dress holding a broom with a crazy grin on her face. I guess Italians don’t want to make their hag a prettier, more acceptable figure. They like her just as she is. A very Italian attitude!
And the Italian children love playing the la Befana game. The words of this song vary in different areas, but what I read is that children gather in a seated circle with a shoe behind each of them. The designated witch walks behind them while the children sing:
Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana
The English translation is:
Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!
Prettier in Italian!
Once the song is over, all the children open their eyes, and check their shoes. Whoever finds the candy that the “Befana” has hidden there wins!
I hope my friend Michelle Damaini of il Bel Centro won’t mind my quoting her here…she wrote, “Because I love celebrating La Befana. Not just for the very Italian-ness that connects me back to the curling fog and hastening twilight of January in Spello. No, you see La Befana as a reminder. A reminder to stop sweeping, look up, and listen. Magic is all around, we just need to be open to it. We just need to listen.” Nice…
Yesterday it snowed…
Just to document it, we had snow squalls here yesterday. South and east of us they actually got a lot of snow. Here it is very cold and blue skies today. See our snow squalls…
OKAY for all you folks waiting with bated breath for the results of my Cinghale stew (wild boar stew) here are two pictures. First is the boar after marinating for 2 days in red wine plus other stuff.
It was surprisingly yummy. I don’t own a crockpot but I looked up how to emulate it. It said to cook in an 200F oven for 6 hours, covered tightly. This worked well. The meat was tender and falling apart.
I got this recipe from the internet but modified it some. Here it is:
Wild boar – cinghiale – Stew
2 pounds wild boar meat, cut into stew-sized pieces
1 bottle red wine minus 1 glass
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 carrot, 1 stalk celery, 1 onion, chopped into big pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
Juniper berries, whole (to taste); approx. 1 Tbsp.
Sage if desired
Red chili pepper flakes (to taste); approx. 1-2 tsp.
Olive oil, 5 Tbsp.
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) passata, plain tomato sauce, or tomato puree
Prepare the marinade with the wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries and chili flakes. Pour marinade over the boar meat, stir to coat, and marinate, covered, for at least 8 hours or overnight. (I marinated it two days. You can’t really over-marinate)
Drain the meat and vegetables, reserving the liquid. Chop the vegetables into smaller pieces and sauté them in 5 Tbsp. olive oil for several minutes, preferably in an enameled, cast iron casserole or any heavy stew pot. Remove.
Now add the wild boar meat to the pot, salt and pepper it, and brown the meat in the oil in batches. Return the vegetables to the pot. Add one soup spoon of the wine; let it evaporate at high flame. Now add the reserved marinade liquid, the tomato sauce or puree and bring to a boil; Cover tightly with a lid and foil to keep in the moisture. Put in a 100C/200F oven for six hours. This emulates a crockpot. If you have a crockpot then you can use that. The meat should be melt-in-your-mouth tender when done.
Delicious with roast potatoes and cannellini beans (white beans).