Category Archives: Umbertide

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.
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Trying to divide it is difficult. I wanted some for lunch and the rest for dinner. Bag on the right is saved for later.
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My lunch. Beautiful pomodori con basilico e Burrata.
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Brochure from the producer of the Moazarella.
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Picture of the lady without which we’d never be able to enjoy this pleasure.
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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.
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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.

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Bellissimo view with our new Tende di Sole open.
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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!
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Fun with friends…old and new

We have had visitors for in the past few weeks and I’ve documented some of our adventures in pictures below.

Our first visitors were new friends. They own a place down in the south of Italy in a small town called Pisticci. They came to Umbertide for a few nights staying in a nearby B&B. We had fun showing them around. Our first lunch at Erba Luna in Montone. We went to Erbe Luna to escape a gaggle of loud Americans. But damned if they didn’t end up with us anyway. Can’t win. But they gave us our most memorable moment when one of them asked if a dish came with a side of spaghetti…must have been Italian Americans…maybe from New Jersey (no offense New Jerseyans). Reminded us of the movie, Big Night.
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Ravioli with tartuffi, truffles…
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Pretty stairs down from the walls above to the outside dining terrace.
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View from Montone toward the Apennines.
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Sunday was a beautiful day to go to Calagrana for Pranzo. Asparagus, poached egg showered with truffles.
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Too pretty to eat Scampi with grilled polenta.
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Such perfect weather. Such a perfect view!
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We went to a couple of wineries for tastings and then to Montefalco to our favorite L’Alchemista. The Giro d’Italia was passing through town that day and they were all decorated in pink flags, bikes, and paraphernalia.

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Ravioli and favas. Spring is the time for fresh favas.
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We had a great time getting to know our new friends and plan to see them again soon.

The next weekend Luther and I decided to go to the Cantine Aperte, or open cellars. Many participating wineries. We chose one in Orvieto. It was a beautiful day but all the places we went to were very crowded.
Our picnic. It was a pretty day.
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Our next guests were very old friends…well not physically old! We’ve known each other since we all lived and worked in Germany 25 years ago.

We visited Montone for lunch and our great Wednesday market. The next day we went to Assisi. Our final day we visited Tabarinni, one of the best wineries in Umbria, lunched in Montefalco and went ceramic shopping in Deruta. Then, on the way to Rome we stopped in Orvieto mainly to see the magnificent Duomo. We had a light lunch of assorted bruschette and meat and cheese plates.

Lunch in Assisi. Another beautiful day.
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The grilled octopus appetizer was amazing.
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As were the pastas.
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We enjoyed our time with our last guests. Talking of old times, eating, drinking and catching up.

Drivers license saga continues…

When we last checked in on the drivers license issue we had returned from Rome with our Attestizione affirming we were us, even though our documents didn’t exactly match. Errand to Rome.

Our next visit was to the Comune where we had the very helpful lady in the Records office affix our photos to a paper which stated we were, indeed, us! Who knew they’d have a form all ready to do this? Strano!

We took these new documents back to the nice lady who’s helping with all this and she looked very pleased. She had to go, with this enormous pile of accumulated documents, to the equivalent of the DMV in Perugia. She called them pazzo, which means crazy. We had read the reviews on the web for this place and I’ve never seen such! Like the third circle of hell. She told us she’d call after her visit. Which she did and had good news! We were to come in and see her doctor for a cursory exam and we should be good to go.

We returned to her office and went in to see the doctor who asked me to read maybe four letters from an eye chart and 25€ later (each) we had his certificate of approval. What a scam. She told us to come back the following Friday. Oh and we had to pay 300€ to her, the first she’d asked for, for her services rendered. This was quite a bit but she had paid for our stamps and fees so I think it was worth it.

Yesterday was the big day! We hoped to actually pick up our licenses… well, we sort of did. We went back and she gave our German licenses back and a sheet of paper for each saying we had applied for the conversion. She said, depending on which bureaucracy got the job we would have the plastic card in a month or two, or four…who knows? Anyway, we are done except to wait for her call that they have arrived. I am SO glad this is done!

Errand to Rome

This past week we took a day trip to Rome. We are STILL trying to get our German drivers licenses converted to Italian ones. We started this process last year and hit a road block. Italians like every document to match perfectly. In our case our Italian documents say we were born in a city in the US, while our German licenses list our state. Even though we brought in our birth certificates which list both they said no. And we’ve learned two main things here. One, when a bureaucrat makes up his or her mind you have no recourse. And two, they each make up the rules as they go along. We gave up until it occurred to us that we could just try another place and hope for better luck.

So we went to the next town called Trestina. And we visited the little auto services place there. A nice woman is helping us and we took in all of our copies of all of our documents. We waited and she called and we returned. This time the discrepancy was not only our places of birth but Luther’s name. On his Italian documents he is Luther Pearson Hampton III. On the German drivers license he is merely Luther Pearson Hampton. Oh no! So, she explained we had to do an attestazione to swear we were who we said we were even though we were born in different places and had different names. And we had to do this in Rome at the American Embassy.

So we created our attestazione and took the train to Rome. It was a pretty day. It takes about two hours to get to Rome on the train. Then we walked the maybe ten minute walk to the Embassy. They were super nice there. Nothing like the Florence Consulate. We went through the security and the man took our papers and said they get this all the time. We paid $50.00 for each notarization. Cash cow for the Embassy! Another guy stamped and witnessed our signatures. Mission accomplished. We were back home by 6pm.
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Next steps, we have to get four photos made. And we have to affix one to a piece of paper stating who we are and our address. Then we have to go to the Comune and get them to attest that we are who we say and that we live at that address. First we have to find that office since all the people from the Comune are scattered around town due to the renovation. I sure hope we can get the licenses after all this!

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.
kale

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!

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.

old onion aguy

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.

From our window. DSC06610

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

Buona Epifania!

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!

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And there she goes…
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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!
befana

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…
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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…
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Cinghale Stew on New Years Day

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.
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This is the final product which we ate last night.
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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

Marinade:
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.
Sprig rosemary
Sage if desired
Red chili pepper flakes (to taste); approx. 1-2 tsp.

To finish:
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).

Buon Appetito!