Such fun to make something new. Our lunch was not formal nor fancy. But it was good, and fun! It was especially fun to share with friends.
First thing I had to do this morning was de-head, de-shell and de-vein the shrimp. I wanted to use the heads and shells for my shellfish stock. Once done I browned the shells in olive oil. Then I added tomato paste for a couple of minutes and the vegetables (carrot, celery, parsley, bay leaves, spices) and finally, I deglazed the pain with white wine. It smelled great. I added the canocchia. Thanks to Phil, one of my readers, I now know the name of the unknown crustacean🙂. I simmered for about an hour and then strained it all through cheesecloth. I ended up with a beautiful rich stock for the brodetto.
I used my big cast iron pot for the final product. I sliced the pepper and sautéed it, I added garlic and tomatoes and simmered it all for fifteen minutes.
I scrubbed the clams and mussels. Then I soaked them in salt water so they could expel their grit. After their soaking, I cooked them separately in a big pan in wine.
I added the whole fish to the pepper/tomato mixture and then some broth. I cooked it a bit. Then I added the shrimp.
At the end I strained the cooking liquid from the mussels and clams. Then I added them and some of the broth to the pot. Finally it was all ready go!
It is served with toasted bread to soak up the juice. I will say it was a feast!
Big project tomorrow. Il Brodetto alla Termolese on the menu for Pranzo. Two friends will join us. you might remember my friend Jen and I had this special fish soup in the town of Termoli in Molise on our trip together (see post about the trip). We have been craving it ever since.
I went out to the big Wednesday market to see if my normal fish truck was there. It was missing last week and, alas, it was missing again today. Probably because of the holidays. So I decided to visit the other fish truck. I don’t know why I don’t normally go to him. Maybe because the lines are always so long. Today, I was out early, even before some of the stands were set up. So there was no line at all. As I looked over the large amount of very fresh seafood, I noticed about 40% of it was still moving. Now, THAT’S what I call fresh! It was really beautiful stuff. He even had oysters. I wanted to buy some, but I didn’t.
I bought all the food for our feast tomorrow. Two whole spigole, which are sea bass in English, shrimp, mussels (cozze), tiny clams (vongole) and the funny crustaceans they have here to make stock…not much meat and a pain to eat but for stock they should work well. I forget their name.
The mussels, clams, and the mystery crustaceans are all still alive. I remember once, long ago, I bought mussels at Whole Foods. They are always sold alive so you must let them breath. When I got to the checkout counter, the checker, a young girl, tried to tie the plastic bag, which held the mussels, closed. I told her not to do that since they were still alive and must breath. The shock on her face was priceless! She obviously didn’t know!
Tomorrow, the Brodetto. I will post the finished product after we make it. And hopefully I remember to take pictures before we eat it!
For the festive season I made several things. We went to the local Coop grocery store for what I call a “big buy”. I keep lists and we stock up on all the things we have run out of. But on that same trip we were surprised that they had an itty bitty turkey! It was only 2.7 kilos. I have never seen anything like this here so I couldn’t resist buying it. On the same shopping trip Luther also pointed out his favorite — anatra/duck. So I decided that would be our Christmas dinner.
We also had friends over for dinner one night so we took a trip to our favorite, amazing Etrusco butcher and ordered a prime rib…called costeletto here.
Anyway, the turkey turned out great and we indulged ourselves with turkey sandwiches for a few days! The costeletto was also very good and we had it as leftovers the next day. Finally the duck was our Christmas dinner.
I have an amazing way to cook duck. I saved the recipe and I’ve used it many times. It is not your usual method of cooking duck. It is simplicity in itself. The recipe is from The Omnivore’s Cookbook. The duck is stuffed with citrus fruit, heavily salted, and the breast skin is scored with a knife but not into the meat. Once this is done you pop it, uncovered into a very low temperature oven, 95 to 120 C / 200 to 250 F for 6 hours. Yes, I said six hours…you don’t touch it. You leave it be. It smells amazing as it cooks. When it comes out the skin is crisp and the meat pulls apart and is very tender. Try this! It is incredible. And, if you set your temperature low, it is fool-proof. If you like Peking duck you can buy or make the little pancakes and serve with hoisin sauce. The meat works perfectly for this.
I’m afraid I didn’t take any pictures of any of these meals…my bad! ~~~~~~~ Today, I was craving pasta. So I made Spaghetti con le Sarde. I have made this before from different sources and the ingredients are the same. This recipe is traditional. You can google it. It comes from Palermo, Sicilia. It is the typical moorish inspired Sicilian recipe that is both savory and sweet. Picture. Recipe is below.
Spaghetti con le Sarde – 2 servings
About 3 tablespoons raisins – soaked in warm water 1 tablespoon bread crumbs toasted, or panko 3 tablespoons olive oil Handful of pine nuts 2 tablespoons onions 1/2 cup diced fennel anchovy filets – 2 or 3 one 4 ounce can tinned sardines or 250 grams fresh – cleaned and boned Pinch of saffron spaghetti or bucatini for 2 Lemon if you’ve got fennel fronds use them as garnish
Boil water, add fennel and cook 5 minutes. Drain, save water for pasta. In large sauté pan add oil. Cook onions until soft, and the fresh sardines if using. Add drained raisins, pine nuts, anchovies, fennel, tinned sardines if using, saffron, pepper. Cook 15 minutes. While cooking boil spaghetti or bucatini until al dente. Add to sauce and toss, adding a little pasta water if dry. To serve, sprinkle with crumbs and fennel fronds, if using. ~~~~~~ As for news on the Covid front, Italy extended the state of emergency until 31 March. They also came out with a new decree on Christmas Eve. From 25 December, there are new restrictions. The Green pass showing vaccination or recovery in the last six months is required to do just about anything. Even workers who had been doing work-arounds by being tested every two days can no longer go to their workplace. It is mandatory to wear a mask inside and outside. One must wear an FFP2 mask when attending concerts or events or on public transport. No food allowed at indoor events.It is mandatory to wear a mask inside and outside. You must have the pass to go to inside a restaurant or bar. People cannot take a train, plane, bus or underground, use a gym or swimming pool or attend any concerts or sporting events. All nightclubs and discos are closed until 31 January. All New Years celebrations are canceled. The numbers are jumping here by around 5,000 new cases a day. Last number I saw was 55,000 new daily cases. I have a feeling after the holidays we will see even more restrictions.
It was another unpredictable year. I hope in 2022 we can finally get ahead of the virus. I’m sure everyone is as tired as I am of the uncertainty and the stress of it all. I have heard from multiple people that they are resigned to catching it. I think this is not a good attitude, and we must remain vigilant. It is still dangerous, especially for older folks…
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this journal. I realize at times it is not terribly exciting but life, even in Italy, just ISN’T all that exciting, all the time 😏 And this pandemic hasn’t helped much in that department for sure! We have some wishes and dreams for next year…let’s all make our plans and cross our fingers that our plans all work out! 🤞🤞
Have a happy holiday season everyone, and a very Happy and Healthy New Year! 🎉 🎊
Today was the last market before Christmas. It was quite festive. Many “buona festa” “buona natale” “Auguri” greetings. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t Catholic, or even Christian. Even our Muslim citizens were out and about and festive. Here are some pictures I took. First a bunch of the buskers and people who sit and ask for money. We have our share of them as probably everywhere does.
This fellow below is a regular. I always give him a coin or two. He sits politely, and waits.
The entrance to the main piazza.
~~~~~~~ On a different note. I took some pictures of the Christmas windows around the piazza and adjacent streets in the Centro.
The shopkeepers care and work to make their stores attractive for the holiday. I enjoy seeing their efforts. Ciao for now!
The weather has broken and the cold has abated. Warmer and rain is on the way for Christmas 🙁. Until the last day, it has been crisp and cold with blue skies. A picture of or Collegiata as I returned home from an errand. I love this church. It is unique.
Sunday, we had, at Luther’s request, hot dogs. We bought them at the market. All beef and larger than my usual frank. To my credit I did roast them over the fire. But what amused me was the package for the buns.
One of the things I’ve noticed here…hot dog buns, hamburger buns are not sliced. You must cut them open yourself. Not a big deal. But also, in Italy they don’t cut pizzas into wedges. People usually get a pie each and then just cut it themselves. I guess Italians are cut averse! Hah! ~~~~~~~ Today I made an interesting dish for dinner. I had bought a bunch of chard at the Saturday market. I also had the tops from two turnips. I wanted to use them somehow for our dinner. I decided to sauté it in olive oil and garlic with pepper flakes. Then I added a handful of cooked chickpeas and some crumbled feta. I cooked some tagliatelle and tossed it into the chard mixture with some pasta water. To finish I chopped some toasted almonds. I put them on the pasta with some pecorino Romano cheese. I fried a egg for each plate, which went on the top. It was good.
~~~~~~~~ Numbers continue to go up here. State of emergency was extended until 31 March. This allows the government to act quickly during the pandemic. I think the government is letting people enjoy the holiday, but afterward there will be big spikes of the disease and things will get more difficult. January and February will probably be peaking (yet again) with the virus. We are again, sadly, staying home for now. I have to say, it is getting old. I want our world back. I want to travel again. But it looks like I’m going to have to accept the fact that life has changed forever. That all said, we need to live our lives. We just need to decide what are acceptable risks. This is all new to us all. We will figure it out. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.
Today we got our third vaccine shot. We just passed the five month mark since our second shot so we became eligible to get the booster. We made the appointment online which was a smooth process. At 5 PM we went to Trestina a small town north of us as we couldn’t get into the Umbertide clinic. Not an issue, it was only a 15 minute drive.
We arrived and there was no line. We went in and each were processed in. We had downloaded and filled in all the paperwork, which was checked. Then we went to the chairs spaced across the room. The woman called out “avanti” to Luther immediately. Within a minute I went in and the two of us went into the next room to get our jabs. We returned to the big room to wait ten minutes and were on our way. The whole process took no more than twenty minutes. Italy has got this DOWN! Here is the waiting room.
We drove straight home. The full moon hung low and illuminated the hills around us. The Christmas lights are all on in Umbertide. I finally took a picture of our town tree.
Exciting news! The Economist voted Italy the Winner of its “country of the year” award. The award goes not to the biggest, the richest or the happiest, but to the one that in their view improved the most in 2021.
From The Economist: “That honour goes to Italy. Not for the prowess of its footballers, who won Europe’s big trophy, nor its pop stars, who won the Eurovision song contest, but for its politics. The Economist has often criticised Italy for picking leaders, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who could usefully have followed the Eurovision-winning song’s admonition to “shut up and behave”. Because of weak governance, Italians were poorer in 2019 than they had been in 2000. Yet this year, Italy changed.
In Mario Draghi, it acquired a competent, internationally respected prime minister. For once, a broad majority of its politicians buried their differences to back a programme of thoroughgoing reform that should mean Italy gets the funds to which it is entitled under the eu’s post-pandemic recovery plan. Italy’s covid vaccination rate is among the highest in Europe. And after a difficult 2020, its economy is recovering more speedily than those of France or Germany. There is a danger that this unaccustomed burst of sensible governance could be reversed. Mr Draghi wants to be president, a more ceremonial job, and may be succeeded by a less competent prime minister. But it is hard to deny that the Italy of today is a better place than it was in December 2020. For that, it is our country of the year. Auguroni! “ ~~~~~~~~
Finally, a mystery for you all. Here is a photo of a small sticker that has been stuck on the wall on our street for many years. We have googled and have found even more mystery… Who is Ernest Olkowski? And why was he right? 😳
Sunday was a cold, clear, crisp day here. My friend Elizabeth Wholly invited us to her house for an open house to ring in the season. Elizabeth is an accomplished cook and an accomplished writer. She is known for her book “Sustenance – Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland”. It highlights many of the artisanal products produced in our river valley and surrounding hills. She also has a blog focusing on Wines of Italy called the Wine Girls. She is a multifaceted and delightful friend.
The group was diverse. Some I knew, some I didn’t. They ranged from Canadians, Americans, UK residents, Danes, and a lone Italian, a neighbor. The table was set with all kinds of beautiful sweets. We were in what Elizabeth refers to as her party room. It is a good description. It is a big, long room filled with a long table that would easily seat fourteen. Flanked by a small sitting area in front of a lovely fireplace and next to that her “summer kitchen”. There are double doors onto a patio perfect for catching the low winter sun. She also had a crackling bonfire in the yard. It was beautiful. I took some pictures of course.
Today I had a number of errands to do. I could hear that it was extremely windy. It was whistling around the house. It sure didn’t make me feel really good about going out!
My first errand was a test at the hospital but turns out no one told me their hours so that was a bust. I will go back Monday. I proceeded to visit a friends apartment to check that all was well there as it is empty.
Once those two, less than fun, errands were done I visited my friendly Ceramica shop and then the Slow food market, Il Mercato della Terra in Umbertide, or our kilometer zero market. The SlowFood people had a booth set up. I also noticed most of the stands had taken on, as a new, temporary, employee, a handicapped young person. So sweet. I’m not sure nowadays how to say this in a politically correct way. But they looked to be mostly Downs Syndrome young people who did seem to be enjoying this new and stimulating activity. I was happy to see it.
I decided to buy a bag from the SlowFood booth. Here is a picture. It included four products which are considered rare since they are produced in small quantities with much manual work in the process.
It included many interesting things to include my favorite legumes. One, Fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno. The other Roveja di Civita di Cascia. Both of these come from Umbria and the nearby Marche. Both are ancient beans. They also gave me recipes to try.
The Fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno is a very local product grown near the big lake in Umbria. It is unknown outside of the area. Once it was widespread around the lake but the cultivation and harvest is long, tiring and still entirely manual — from sowing to harvesting to threshing. The maturation is gradual. The beans must be harvested every day for a couple of weeks. The plants are brought to the farmyard and dried, then beaten. Afterwards, using sieves, the beans are separated. It is a bean with an oval and tiny shape and can be of various colors: from cream to black through salmon and all shades of brown, even mottled. When they are cooked, they are tender, buttery and reminiscent of black-eyed peas.
The Roveja is also very difficult to cultivate and harvest. It grows at high altitudes in the Sibillini Mountains. To harvest them, you have to work bent down and it takes a long time. This has discouraged the cultivation of roveja and has helped to ensure that almost no one today knows this small pea.
The next item, Grano Saraceno Decorticato, is translated as buckwheat. I looked up the producer. The Tamorri Vera farm is located in the Chiavano plateau which is 1000 meters above sea level, in Valnerina, on the border between Umbria and Lazio. It is family-run and in its third generation. The farm covers about 65 hectares where it grows its own cereals and legumes, in addition to fodder for cattle and sheep. The production of the products is organic and is part of the Slowfood Presidium of the buckwheat of Valnerina. I tried this out last night. I will show the result below.
The next item is also new to me. It is produced at Macelleria dell’Allevatore in Trestina, a town very nearby. It is a cured sausage. The word fegato means liver. So I assume it will be a liver sausage. I will have to report back. I do like most liver, Luther does not, so we will have a taste test!
I also picked up some fresh produce. As usual, I’m planning a hearty soup. I found turnips! Not a usual product.
My side dish for dinner last night was made from the buckwheat. I cooked half a cup in a cup of water for 20 minutes. It absorbed the water and got a lot bigger. I steamed some broccoli until crisp tender. Next I smashed and peeled a garlic clove and put it in olive oil until browned. Then discarded it. I sautéed mushrooms in the oil, then added the broccoli and last the buckwheat. To serve I sprinkled it with grated pecorino cheese. It was quite good. The grain has a distinctive flavor which I remember from Normandy France where it is a very popular product. It also is gluten free for those folks who don’t eat it.
This is a different Christmas than last year, which was a very sad and lonely Christmas. Everyone seems to be happy we are free to gather and do some of the traditional activities common to the season. Of course caution is advised so we all wear the masks and we do much outside. I see there will be many concerti and choral groups in the churches and museums around here. Ho Ho Ho!
We are having storms thoughout Italy. Some areas are getting snow. We expect rain. But the way the weather is moving through we are getting some very dramatic skies and mountain views. We expect heavy rains later today.
Yesterday we took a trip to the biggest shopping mall around here, Quasar Village. It is about half an hour from us. We were just doing a big grocery shop and knew the gigantic SuperConad store was there and we wanted to explore. It is an enormous store. Back in Virginia I was always intimidated by the big Wegmans stores. There was just too much to take in. This store was the same. I should have taken photos. I didn’t think of it. But some things were amazing. For instance, they had whole and half goats and lambs. Butchered and packaged for a feast. They even had suckling pigs! Butchered and trussed, ready to roast. The seafood was dazzling. The cheeses and charcuterie went on for blocks! I borrowed a couple of pictures to just give an idea. Next time I will take pictures, I promise!
The store was also chock full of Christmas. Decorations, chocolates, panettone, toys, and did I mention chocolate? Yes there was a LOT of chocolate. Plus champagne, all sorts of vino, grappa, brandy, amaro… such riches. Back in Virginia I used to hit the Costco in Arlington right before Christmas. It was like this. Every luxury item you’d want was there. Whole lobsters, entire beef tenderloins, prime rib roasts, champagnes, on and on. I enjoyed that trip every year. I can’t say it was quite the same at the big Conad, but it was close.
I had been yearning for a comforting pot of Coq au Riesling. Many years ago, we lived in Germany, but within driving distance of the Alsace region of France. One of the specialties there was Coq au Riesling. It is like Coq au Vin but with white wine (Riesling) instead of red. Also it has cream. I bought all I needed at the Conad and made it for dinner last night. I think I could eat it everyday, with crusty bread or egg noodle pasta to soak up the sauce. Mmmm. Heaven.