Category Archives: cooking

Another Sunday, another Sagra…

sedano_neroThis past Sunday we decided to visit Trevi, a hill town between Foligno and Spoleto. I had passed this pretty town perched way up on its hill many times but had never stopped. The occasion was their annual Sedano Nero festival. This means black celery. It is grown only between Borgo di Trevi and the Clitunno river on a small strip of land. It is not black but dark green and does not go through any processing, like whitening. It is planted and grown by strict traditions. The seeds are planted during a waning moon on the day before Easter. It has to be carefully supported as it grows. Most of the work is done by hand. It is one of the six Umbrian Slow Food specialties.

Trevi from above.
trevi

Trevi is also known as the Capital of Oil
olives

This is the very beginning of the olive harvest. I bought some of the new olive oil. See how cloudy it is. And incredibly green. It is unfiltered.
oil

The sedano nero was stacked like firewood everywhere!
sedano

It is a beautiful green. They say it is stringless. Not sure I’m buying that. So I bought some to bring home. I am here to say, it does have strings but less that normal celery has.
sedano2

Also on offer were lots of specialties. We tried lots of cured meats. Many specialties were, of course, celery based. For instance, celery jam and celery cream.

This stand had many types of cured meats and sausage.
cured_meats

A discerning nun.
discerning_nun

It was a very warm day so I felt for this man who was cooking up the sausages.
fire_walk_with_me

We decided to have lunch in Taverna del Sette. We sat in a pretty courtyard at the end of the short street. The sky was mesmerizingly blue.
sky

Luther went for the celery soup.
soup

And he tried the stuffed celery. It sure looks good.
stuffed_celery

I tried the cinghale ragu. Wild boar.
cinghale_ragu

After lunch we decided to make a short stop in Bevagna since our friend Jennifer had not ever been there. It was Sunday and there was a small flea market going on. But for me, the best thing was coming upon a group of men just finishing up lunch outside a restaurant. They performed an impromptu a capello melody. It was hauntingly beautiful, the voices blended seamlessly. I wished I had a way to record them.
acapella

Scenes in Bevagna. Such a beautiful town.
bevagna2 bevagna1

The old guys. Every town has its own cadre of old men. They sit together companionably on benches, or they gather to play Briscola, the national Italian card game.
old_men

The Sedano Nero festival was one of the better ones I’ve visited. Not too crowded but plenty lively. And Trevi is a beautiful town that few tourists visit. Too bad, their loss. It was a lovely outing made super by the dazzling day.

Unmistakably Autumn

Well, it’s official. It is suddenly Fall. Temperatures still rise to low 70s in the afternoon but as soon as the sun sets it is decidedly chilly. This is the time of year I have a hard time deciding what to wear. Inside the house is colder than outside so I tend to overdress. This is not a problem for Italians who dress to the calendar, not the temperature. So already they are wearing puffy winter coats and scarves. And I’m in a T-shirt.

And it is time to wrap up the corn saga. As you may recall, I planted corn in containers on my terrazzo and also in a friends garden. We had the hottest summer on record and consequently only a little of the corn plumped up and was edible. I believe I harvested 11 ears. And they were wonderful. The container corn was not a success at all. It tassled and had small ears that never matured. So here is our final goodbye to the 2017 corn project. Next year!

corn

And the foods in our markets are changing rapidly. Gone are the tomatoes…sniff. And the melons. But we still have mounds of just ripe peppers to include the picante types. And we still have zucchini. The sweet, tiny ripe grapes from the fields nearby have just come in. And the pumpkins and winter squash have arrived as well.

Recently I did an interview with a writer for International Living. She’s writing an article about retiring and the differences in prices people can expect between Umbria and the US. I was happy to oblige. One misconception is that we have to pay more to eat local and in season here. I remember visiting the farmers markets in Virginia and paying top dollar for the products. Not so here. If you buy seasonally, when the vegetables and fruits are at their peak and bountiful, you pay the least because there IS such bounty. And I am definitely a person who cooks and cares to eat good tasting food which is in season. I spend around 8€ ($9) for a big grocery bag of fresh produce.

Winter squash is so seasonal.
winter_squash1

Almost too pretty to eat. Looks like sculpture!
winter_squash

The citrus has arrived. It will get better as we go through the winter.
citrus2

citrus1

Last of the Borlotti beans and eggplant. The eggplant is scrawny.
fall_veg

And the pears are plentiful and luscious.
pears

The Wednesday market is very different than the Saturday one. The Wednesday market is mostly the big vendors who go from market to market in the different towns each day (for instance Città di Castello is Thursday, Gubbio is Tuesday). Their produce is not necessarily local. I believe they DO buy local when they have the chance but most of the food comes from the south of Italy and Sicily. Still local to this country but… And you can get things from them earlier than when they are coming into season here. You can also get tomatoes all year, from Sicily, but I don’t care for them. There are one or two locals who come to both Wednesday and Saturday markets. Now, the Saturday market is only very local products from nearby farms. Thus you really do eat only what is in in season nearby. Winter can be pretty sparse in this one.

Greens are what is growing around here.
rapette

And cauliflower…
cauliflower

And Cabbage…
cabbage

And I thought I would plant some fall things this year. I got a few lettuce plants and four petunias. I think the petunias may last the winter. And we shall see how the lettuce does.
flowers_lettuce

petunia

lettuce

i primi d’Italia – festival in Foligno

It was Sunday and we had plans to visit a fest devoted solely to first plates, or antipasti – appetizers in English.  It is the only festival of its kind in Italy. The weather was not so good. Spitting rain. But not too bad and we had been wanting to go to this since we came. So, not letting the weather stop us, we set off to Foligno. This town lies 25 miles south of Perugia and north of Spoleto. As we looked around I thought to myself maybe it should have been on my list when we thought about Umbria. It is flat, has a nice big Centro Storico, and is on the main train line from Rome to Ancona on the Adriatic. Very walkable.

Main Piazza with Duomo.
fest2

Foligno is host to two big jousting tournaments held in June, called 1st challenge, and September, (called counter-challenge) . The contest is called Giostra della Quintana and is named after the Roman 5th road where the soldiers were trained in jousting. Believe it or not they have had this festival since 1448 (!) It has been held uninterrupted since then. The contest is between the ten “neighborhoods” of the city. Each neighborhood is represented by a Knight. They gallop on horseback trying to catch three rings, each smaller than the previous one. I must go see it sometime.

Note the flags on either side of the street. These are two of the Neighborhoods.
fest1

Another Neighborhood with pink flags.
flags

Anyway, back to the Primi Piatti. The fest is four days long.  Their were 14 booths all over town, each specializing in an area of Italy, or a type of food, like pasta. Some were kind of like restaurants where you paid 3 to 8 Euro for tastes. We walked all over town. In the main Piazza they had cooking demonstrations. There were random bands and lots of music. We visited the Sicily tent. It was very crowded we could barely make any progress. Then went to the Jewish food one. It was really just a restaurant with tastes and we didn’t want to do that. Next we went to the Pasta piazza with people selling all shapes and kinds of pasta. Then we visited the Street Food one which had Hamburgers, hot dogs, fried Olives, mozzarella balls and beer. Lots of beer. Finally we visited the area dedicated to local Umbrian foods. Cheeses, wines, olive oils, honey, confitures. It was a fun time. Next time we’ll go earlier and have lunch.

Marching band.band

People enjoying the food.
crowds

The Booths

First booth was billed as Sicilian. A lot of the things in there were not from Sicily. This first cheese is a lovely oozing Gorgonzola which I had a taste of.
oozing_gorgonzola

This is Mortadella, from Emilia-Romagna.
mortadella

Big booth of alllll sweets!
sweets

Next up were what they were billing as “Street Foods”.
streetfood2

streetfood1

This one was too funny not to take a picture of!
beer_pump

And all the beers on tap in this pub, called Beer on the Road, were American micro-brews.
american_beer

Next up was the Pasta Booth. This packet seemed to have many different shapes all together. I’d never seen that before.pasta

And I couldn’t resist these beautiful pomegranates. They grow everywhere here.
pomegranits

Last booth we visited was dedicated to Umbrian specialties, like these cheeses…
local4

Famous onions of Cannara!
local3

Local Montefalco Sagrantino.
local2

Norcia meats and sausages. This is from the area hard hit by the earthquakes last year. Norcia was heavily damaged.
local1

And finally I started fixating on the very inappropriate, in my opinion, shoes some women wear who will be walking uneven streets for hours.
shoes1

shoes2

shoes3

Here is my idea of appropriate footwear! Not…these guys clacked along loudly with wooden sandals.
sandal_guys

Hope you enjoyed the Festa pictures!

CORN!!!

Oh my god…we have harvested our first corn. It was AMAZING. After four corn-less years it was heaven on earth. I am so happy  we got some corn this year from our shared garden with Angela.

We have a guest so we went together to check the corn and I deemed it ready to harvest. We picked 5 ears for our test run.

corn1

Shucking.
corn2

All ready for the pot. within three hours of picking will ensure a mighty sweet ear.
corn3

um um good. Buttered and salted and peppered. Soooo good!
corn5

Alas, all gone. Going back tomorrow for more. 🙂
corn6

My unfortunate timing means we are gone on our Croatia cruise next week so I will not enjoy it as much as I would have liked. We will see what is left when we return.

Observations

Ciao a tutti! I am passing along some observations I’ve made about products here in Italy. They are just little, everyday type things that I’ve noticed. My point today…everything here is flimsier than the same product I am used to in the US. Here are just a few things that I’ve noticed.

Cardboard boxes of wraps…like Saran Wrap, aluminum foil, etc. are very flimsy. The box itself is made of the thinnest cardboard. This makes it nearly impossible to tear off the wrap. You end up crushing the box in the process. I have an American Glad Wrap box that I just put the Italian product in. It has held up for two years! (I guess it is getting a little worn out, still better than the Italian box)
gladwrap

Then there is the wrap itself. Aluminum foil is the worst. You can’t put it in a pan without poking a hole through it! And don’t ever try to wrap anything in it. This is one of the items I bring from the US when I go back. Good old Reynolds foil.

Note the thinness of the foil and the flimsiness of the box.
aluminumfoil

Plastic water bottles are made of such thin plastic that you can crush them into a ball with no effort. I’ve tried with water bottles in the States and couldn’t do that. In fact all plastic bottles are this way here. My lime juice bottle is permanently crushed from squeezing. My sunflower oil bottle has dimples from just holding it. Maybe this is environmentally friendly because less plastic is used?
water_bottles
lime

You know those little twist ties you close bags with? Well, the ones here have such a small filament of wire in them that they won’t even stay bent. They are useless. I save my old ones and use them over and over. The white one is the Italian one. The black is one I brought along from the US.
twistties

Something else I use over and over. Ziplock bags. I wash them and hang to dry and reuse. This is because we can’t get them here. Also, it is ecologically friendly.

Just little differences I thought would be fun to mention!

Corn – part 3

Well folks. I am the proud grower of my first ear of corn on the terrace!!! Whohoo!!

It’s just a baby but my mouth is watering!
ear

My two pots are producing radically different size plants. One, tall and thin, on the right, the other short and sturdy. They get the same sun, food and water. The only difference is the soil I guess. Our experiment continues.
rows

And a report from my “corn partner” Angela. She reports the first few rows on the left have about 20 ears!!! The plants on the right have not tasseled. I did get a fast and a slow maturation mix so I imagine that’s the reason.

Corn – part 2

I took a quick drive up to my friend (and corn partner) Angela’s house to see the corn we planted for the first time. As you may recall, I was not at all sure it was going to grow at all, given the earth was not tilled very deeply, but it has come up and looks OK. We can only wait and see if any of it produces ears of corn.

Here is a picture.
corn

On the way to Angela’s house. Olive grove. It was a brilliant day!
olive_trees

And here is an update on my terrace corn. It is doing quite well and I think we will get some corn from these plants.
terace_corn2

Mozzarella and Burrata

Hot, hot weather now. Big heat wave covering most of Europe. Here in Italy this front is called Guida, or Judas for obvious reasons. It blows across the Mediterranean from the Sahara and is HOT.

So, hoping to beat the heat, today I descended the stairs to visit the weekly market aiming for cool things, like salads. The wonderful tomatoes are in now and we are loving them. I aimed to buy some and some mozzarella and burrata. There is a man with a small truck who is here every week with the best. It’s sent up from Paestum (mozarella) and the Burrata comes from Puglia.  When the burrata is sliced open, a spurt of thickened cream flows out. The cheese has a rich, buttery flavor and retains its fresh milkiness. It is best when eaten within 24 hours and is considered past its prime after 48 hours. I you’ve not had it, it is a literally a bag tied up and inside are the creamy leavings from Mozzarella making. It is a useful way of using up the ritagli (“scraps” or “rags”) of mozzarella. But it is oh so much better than that!

Behold, burrata fresh from Puglia!buratta

Sliced open to reveal the creamy inside.
sliced_bag

Trying to divide it is difficult. I wanted some for lunch and the rest for dinner. Bag on the right is saved for later.
opened_bag

My lunch. Beautiful pomodori con basilico e Burrata.
lunch

Brochure from the producer of the Moazarella.
mozarella

Picture of the lady without which we’d never be able to enjoy this pleasure.
buffala

And it’s summertime in Umbertide. The outdoor cinema is open on Piazza San Francesco. It has seats outside with beer and wine sold and on Thursday they screen original language films.
cinema_al_centro

Project: Corn

Ciao a tutti! Today I’m posting about a food that is near and dear to my heart. Sweet, summer corn! When we lived in the US as SOON as the corn started coming in I had it frequently. I am a corn snob, however, and when I was buying at the farmers market I would push my fingernail into a kernel and if there wasn’t a squirt of liquid I wouldn’t buy. It is a sign of freshness and when it was picked. As soon as corn is picked the sugars in the kernels start to turn to starch and harden. No longer a succulent sweet ear but a hard starchy one. I had a garden a couple times in my life in which I grew corn, my mantra was…get the water boiling, go pick the corn off the stalk, immerse in boiling water for 5 minutes, slather with butter and a sprinkle of salt and EAT! Heaven.

The sad story is that here in Europe, all over as far as I’ve seen, people see corn as animal fodder, not for human consumption, on the whole. In Italy they do have canned corn, they do NOT have frozen which is infinitely better. I have searched for corn here and on two occasions last year I found some. The first had been allowed to stay on the stalk far too long and was all starch and inedible. The second, from Umbria, in the super market, in NOVEMBER(!) was actually almost good. SO…

I decided to buy seeds and find some way to plant some. On the Burpee website I came across Container Corn. It is corn that will do well planted in pots. So I bought some to try. I also bought two other types in hopes of finding an outside place to plant. I did manage to partner with my British friend Angela and paid for a plot to be prepared. It was hardly optimal. Good sun but the soil really wasn’t tilled deeply enough. We planted anyway so we’ll see.

I’m happy to say my corn on my terrace is doing really well. Angela told me the corn there was up and growing. I think I will have at least some corn this summer. Happy days!

Here is my corn.
corn2

I call this my orto. It means vegetable garden in Italian. It has my two spicy peppers and the corn.
corn

I love sweet basil and it’s almost ready to harvest the tops for pesto!
basil

My herb garden: parsley, thyme, sage, rosemarie and chives.
herbs

Flowers
planters

tunias

tunias2

Happy growing to any of my gardening friends. I will post progress reports occasionally.
Buona estate!

Lemon harvest!

My little lemon tree had 12 lemons on it! I am amazed at the output of these little trees. They flower and fruit all year. Already we have many new flowers and baby lemons. So I harvested ten of the pretty lemons and decided to make preserved lemons with them. Then I can make some Moroccan food this fall. They have to sit for at least three months.

lemon_harvest

preserving

Bellissimo view with our new Tende di Sole open.
tende_di_sole

Table set for dinner all’aperto. Nice. Did you know Al Fresco doesn’t mean eating outside in Italian? It means spending time in jail!
dinner_table