Our weather is foul. It’s the only word for it. High of 5C today, spitting cold rain, with howling winds. Doesn’t that sound lovely? That doesn’t mean I am not enjoying my Sunday. The apartment is warm and cozy. Of course the stufa is burning in the living area. Last week we had 30 bags of pellets delivered which should see us through the winter. We buy them and they bring them to the steps on the ground floor. We then hire two men, our downstairs neighbor, Pietro, and Walter an unemployed but very nice fellow who is a fixture in Umbertide. They are happy to make the money — it is a lot of work. They huff and puff. I have emergency services on speed dial. 😁 At least Luther doesn’t have to carry them anymore. 💕
The stufa has a big hopper in it. You pull it out and fill it and it feeds the pellets in throughout the day. One hopper full lasts a day and a half. We turn it off at night. The living/dining room is a big room with high ceilings so we augment the radiator heat with the stove. Very cozy.
Energy costs are high here, so many Italians heat with wood. Some have whole house pellet systems that heat the water and the house. Others, who have access to wood supplies, use wood. Fireplaces or wood stoves. I, personally, love a real fireplace. When we move, a fireplace or wood stove will be on the ”must have” list.
Tonight I am grilling an enormous bistecca which we bought from our favorite butcher, Etrusco in Bosco. I will grill it on the kitchen fire. The fire will warm the room and also allow me to make a fine dinner. The firewood is brought by a nice Romanian gent named Quintino. He brings five big bags whenever I ask him and delivers it right up to my terrace. I must admit, I pay him handsomely. It is worth it to me, and he appreciates the money.
My beloved region is known as ”The Green Heart of Italy”. It is right in the center of Italy, hence, the *heart*. It is slightly heart shaped. And it is GREEN. Spring is pretty much here, although it is still cold at night. This weekend we will see some of the coldest temperatures yet, but it will shortly pass, and our spring will suddently burst out all over.
Winter wheat is a main crop in Umbria. And just now, it is coming up in so many of the fields – So amazingly green! Umbria is living up to its name. I got a couple of snaps off to show you how beautiful it is. These taken along one of my favorite roads. We always take this road when we return from visiting our favorite butcher. Take a gander at these!
In June these will be rippling fields of yellow grain. Living near to the agrarian society of Umbria makes one notice the seasons as they change; the crops, the seasonal produce, the phases of the moon by which they all still plant, the winter and summer truffles that they hunt, the favorite pass-time of foraging for insalata di campo (salads from the fields), the foraging for wild asparagus (should be starting soon), the game in the fall and in winter (cinghiale – wild boar), the prized delicacy of the porcini mushrooms in autumn, the splendid bounty of summer, the sunflowers in July, the tobacco in the fall…i love it all. I love that it still exists here in Umbria – Italy’s green heart 💚
Since I retired I never get up early if I can help it. I normally rise at a respectable 8 am. But I needed to take a sample to be tested at the hospital. They require you to drop it off between 7:30 am and 8. It is inhuman! I had been putting it off for two weeks. Finally I told myself, today is the day, and I roused myself by 7:15. The hospital is about 10 minutes on foot from our house. I looked at the temperature…-1C…ouch! I almost jumped back into bed. Dressed warmly, I headed out. Just outside of our door across the road, is a little tunnel that goes through to a small piazzetta. We use it a lot as it leads to some bins for recycling cardboard. Today, at that hour, the rising sun was aligned to shine right down the tunnel.
I arrived at the hospital drop off place which is the same place as you go to get blood drawn for testing. The way it works here, people get a prescription from their primary doctor. Then they take it to the pharmacy and get an appointment. This particular test doesn’t require an appointment. But most of the people there are getting blood drawn and that *does* require an appointment. So I queued up with all the other early risers. We all are required to fill out a form for future contact tracing in case someone has Covid. I dropped off the sample and he gave me a paper with a PIN. In a week when the results are ready, I can download my results. Works well. Some people go to private clinics for this but I see no reason.
When I got back the weekly market was slowly opening, so I did a little shopping and headed home. ~~~~~~ Last Sunday we had lunch at Calagrana. They have just reopened after a month and a half. There has been some new decorating and it looks really nice. I love the chocolate accent wall. Very dramatic.
My antipasto was a new dish. Called Cipolla al forno, melanzana arrosto, formaggio di capra, salsa verde e pinoli. Which translates as baked onions with goat cheese fondue on top of roasted eggplant with pine nuts and green sauce. It was brilliant!
This time of year many greens grow in the fields despite the cold. I like to take advantage of them. Orecchiette con rapini or orechiette con cima di rapa are two staples of Italian cuisine, usually served as a primi but we have them for dinner. The first is broccoli rabe. The second is turnip greens. Orecchiette is a pasta shape from Puglia. It means little ears because it is shaped like ears. The shape is particularly nice because the cup-shape holds sauce well.
Luther really loves this dish and I like to take advantage of it because it is also a favorite of mine and I like to have meatless meals. To us it is comfort food. Here are pictures. it is super simple to make. The only fussy part is cleaning and trimming the greens.
You get a nice big skillet and put in a good amount olive oil. Smash a couple of cloves of garlic and saute in the oil until brown. Then discard. Add 3 or 4 anchovies and let them melt into the oil. Don’t be afraid of anchovies, they add a rich umami flavor. Sprinkle pepper flakes in and turn off heat.
Boil water and cook orecchiette. About five minutes before it is al dente put the greens right into the water with the pasta. Finish cooking the pasta. Save some water and drain. Turn on the heat under the pan with the oil. Add the pasta and greens and cook, tossing with some water until saucy. Add some grated cheese. Toss. Serve with more cheese.
A little catching up is in order I think. We have been working once again to get our long term permissions to stay (Permesso di soggiorno UE per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (ex carta di soggiorno)). Much paper to gather. You may remember we tried for it last year. Two of our documents were time sensitive (we didn’t realize) and had expired. So my new hobby is copying all our myriad cards, IDs, passports, tax returns, financial statements, house certifications, and compliance with the language proficiency certification and other requirements to live here. Whew! I think I am almost there. We are still waiting for our police reports, and the Certificato Contestuale. When I’m done killing trees I will take a photo.
The month of February is more than half gone. It is that time of year when the temperatures are all over the place, but more warm than cold now. Today it was mid 60s but cloudy. We are having sunlight until six PM now which is nice. I have been walking so I notice the buds on the trees.
Along the city walls next to the river. We have a brand new fence. The fishers where out this morning in force.
After my walk I stopped to shop in the local Saturday market. I got a big bunch of rapini, called broccoli rabe in english. I will post on Monday the way I love to have it with pasta. Super good and super easy. But meanwhile I’m have a salad tonight among other things, look at this. So pretty! Like a flower. Salad-to-be. It is much like radicchio.
Tomorrow we celebrate a friend’s birthday at Calagrana. I will try to post pictures. Buona domenica everyone!
Well, today the weather wasn’t much to write home about. It was cold and threatening rain. We had lunch reservations in a sweet little medieval village named Bevagna. I have always really liked Bevagna. We were even there when they were filming a movie once. This town has not had any modernization. It is so wholly intact from the medieval times that the film companies don’t have to change a thing to use it as a film set. It is what I call a second tier site to visit. All that means is that it’s not heavily touristed and it is rather undiscovered but really worth a visit if you come. Here are a few pictures.
The restaurant is called Ottavi Mare. The menu is seafood. The restaurant has about 10 tables, so it is small. It is pretty with vaulted ceilings.
The service was proper, but not friendly. It is what I would call “Fine dining” so I expect certain things from them. We ordered a glass of white wine first while we decided what we wanted to eat. They brought glasses and a bottle but didn’t even show us the label. Later, we then ordered a bottle of white wine. They brought the already opened bottle of wine to the table and left it. They didn’t offer us a chance to taste and approve. They never brought a new glass for the new wine. They never poured us any. This was very surprising and disappointing. I don’t think I have ever eaten in a nice place that did this. Very poor form.
Luther loved the food. me not as much, but it was seafood for the most part, that screamed, ”I AM FISH!” Luther loves this kind of food. I am not a huge ”fishy” fish fan. The dishes were very beautiful.
First we had the ”gifts” from the chef. After these, we had the very nice warm sour dough bread, good breadsticks. They brought butter. Very unusual here. This butter was infused with bottarga, or something equally over-the-top fishy. Not for me.
To start I had the gnocchetti di frutti di mare. Luther had elicoidali, canolicchi ed erbe marine.
For our secondi I had the tuna with foie gras and a sagrantino passito sauce which is slightly sweet. Luther had fried seafood. Since this was pretty much an all seafood place I thought the foie gras was something else than ”actual” foie gras. Maybe a faux seafood foie gras. But no, it was real foie gras served on top of tuna. For my taste, the tuna was overcooked. I like mine seared. This was well done. Too well done.
Luther would go back. I am not sure I would. The chef was good. He knew his art. The dishes were beautiful. If the place had been friendlier, if the wine service was more appropriate to the restaurant that would have helped. The over-the-top fishyness was not to my liking. But I guess you need to keep in mind it is my biased opinion. Other reviews were stellar. It is why we tried it.
For our next soup…did I tell you I make at least one soup a week 😁?…Today I made a Minestra di Fagioli but kind of my own adapted version. It will my/our lunch for a few days. It is very healthy, and of course yummy. I did do more than you have to because I made my own stock and cooked the dry beans. But, Hey! I’ve got time. You could use canned stock and canned cannellini beans to save time. I make stock out of many things. This time it was vegetable leavings, you know, the stuff you normally throw away, which I freeze, and the rinds of pecorino cheese which we save for this purpose. The cheese adds quite a lot of flavor. You can even make just plain cheese stock using the rinds, which I’ve done.
I cooked the normal starting ingredients used in most of the world it seems, carrot, celery, onion, in olive oil. Next a couple chopped garlic cloves for 30 seconds. Then I added a sprig of rosemary, a branch of thyme, and a bay leaf. I add the entire branches/sprigs, then remove. Next I added the cooked cannellini beans with cooking liquid (a couple cans worth at least), the stock (about 1 1/2 to 2 quarts), the cleaned, de-stemmed and chopped cavolo nero (black kale sometimes called Tuscan kale in the US), and one potato chopped small. I simmered it for about an hour until the beans and potatoes were softened enough to disintegrate a little into the sauce to thicken it some. Adjust the salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I served it drizzled with some good olive oil. Ta da!! 🎺🎺
The month of February is the turning point of winter. The days are noticeably longer. The very early buds and tiny ground flowers are visible. The big fields of winter wheat are fluorescent green. But it is still cold.
February is when the farmers in these Umbrian valleys and in the nearby Tuscan valleys start the seedlings for their most important cash crop – tobacco. [previous post about Tobacco growing] It is labor intensive. The soil is completely removed and the beds are refilled with straw and manure and fertilizer and then rich alluvial earth is added from near the rivers. The seeds are planted according to the phase of the moon. It must be full and beginning to wane. They do things by the old ways here. ~~~~~~~~ At this time of year, beans are a very big part of the daily diet. The one recipe I chose from the book – “The Tuscan Year” – for February is for Minestra di Fagioli. Ingredients: one onion, one rib of celery, two cloves of garlic, small bunch of parsley, 2 oz pancetta, 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, small can of tomatoes chopped, 5 1/2 ounces cooked white beans, 3 1/2 ounces short pasta, salt, and stock. Instructions: chop onions, celery, garlic, parsley and pancetta. Heat olive oil in large pan and add to pan and cook until soft. Add tomatoes, stir and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile coarsely purée beans and then add to soup. Simmer 10 minutes. Add stock to thin. Cook 15 minutes. Add pasta 15 minutes before serving, cook and add more stock as needed for your preferred soup consistency. Serve with pecorino or parmesan cheese and a spoon of good olive oil. ~~~~~~~~ February is normally the month when Lent begins (This year, Lent begins March 2 because Easter is late). Most Italians still take Lent seriously. But first! There is Carnivale! This is literally ”farewell to flesh”. In Germany it is called Fasching. We would be familiar with Mardi Gras because of New Orleans. Here in Italy, in the large cities, they have huge parades and feasts. But in the little mountain valley of our friend Silvana (from the book ”The Tuscan Year”) it is a bit more low key but still a festive occasion, looked forward to by all.
First the traditional sweets must be prepared. This one is called Castagnole.
The pre-lenten dance is called veglione, a ballo in maschera — masked dance. It was held in a cleared out barn. The young women don their finest, fluff their hair and make themselves sultry with makeup. The young men slick their hair and wear their new trousers. The middle aged dance in their Sunday suits and flowery dresses. Silvana just watches. She lost her 16 year old son in a tragic accident. The big tractor tipped over and killed him. Silvana will be in mourning for many years.
Excerpt from the book… ”About halfway through the evening, the door is flung open and a group of masked, costumed figures rushes in. The band strikes up a new tune and the masked dancers form lines and perform a strange dance like a fast minuet. Their faces are covered with veiling pulled tight and they have all manner of odd hats and garments on. There are men wearing sunbonnets and cotton frocks and girls in patched trousers hung with tin cans, but the veils make them all anonymous and slightly sinister. The music changes, the formation breaks up, the masqueraders grab at the nearest onlookers and whirl them round in faster and faster circles as the tempo quickens. Suddenly, at an unheard signal, the music stops and the dancers disappear as quickly as they arrived. It is midnight and time to eat!” The party goes until 4.
Carnevale, Fasching, Mardi Gras…whatever you call it…always has a sinister and slightly spooky feeling.