May is the season when the hard work on the Umbrian and eastern Tuscan farms begins, the hard work of the tobacco planting. I can see it around in all the valleys now. Not to mention the planting summer and fall crops and the beginning of the harvest of the spring bounty. The book “The Tuscan Year” by Elizabeth Romer, from which I have been excerpting monthly this year, is all about the planting this month. And when this work starts our hero Silvana has to feed sixteen to twenty-four people every day for Pranzo, lunch. They need a hearty lunch from the hard morning work and to continue into the afternoon and evening. Silvana must serve three courses every day. A pasta, or soup as the primi, a meat or fish as the secondo, and fruit for dessert plus strong coffee to wake everyone up afterwards. Home-made wine is served throughout the meal.
The book spends time explaining that Italians, even farm workers, all have very high culinary standards. It is true. Everyone is a critic. She has a lot to live up to. It is important to balance the meal with different tastes and textures in the courses, and to vary it every day, to keep it interesting.
Fish in Umbria and this part of Tuscany is shipped in from the coasts. But in the area near Lake Trasimeno there are a lot of lake fish. Silvana doesn’t like lake fish. She serves trout from the small river running through their farm or she serves baccalà. Baccalà is salt cod. It has been consumed all over Italy for centuries. Back in the past it was the only available fish in the interior of Italy so it was very important for the mandatory fish on Friday meals. Baccalà served that purpose. It is salt cured and you can buy it just as it is or you can buy it already processed to soften it. Silvana soaks it for 24 hours under slowing running water. I have made it and I just soaked it and changed the water often, every hour or so for at least 24 hours. I thought I would pick a recipe from the book for baccalà which I have actually made and I like.
Take the already soaked fish, about 1 kilo or 2 ¼ lb for six people, 500 grams or 1 lb 2 ozs of potatoes, peeled and sliced into thin rounds, a large tuft of parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper and a little water.
Spread a little olive oil on the bottom of a very heavy and shallow saucepan, then oil and arrange a layer of potato slices, season and trickle on a little more oil. Next sprinkle on an even dusting of chopped parsley, then a layer of baccalà cut into small pieces. Drizzle the oil over the fish, then more parsley and another layer of potato and so on until the pan is full. Add a little water to prevent the fish from sticking to the pan. Let it cook over a very low flame for at least an hour until the potatoes are tender and the fish is cooked through; add more liquid if needed. This dish can also be cooked successfully and more simply in the oven where it will just require olive oil for moisture. To vary the flavor you may put a layer of thin pieces of onion on top of the potato and a layer of tomato slices on top of the fish.
And finally, an excerpt from the end of the chapter. After the work is done and the day’s heat has lessened….
Later in the afternoon Silvana will go out into her garden and do a little work there; she may potter in the small corner set aside for the flowers, mostly dahlias, Sweet William, snapdragons and Michaelmas daisies planted amongst sage bushes and hydrangeas. She goes into the vegetable garden to pick vegetables or salad for supper, and to see what is ripe and what is coming up; the cool late afternoon is also the time when she does her watering. Sometimes she picks up an old sack and a small sharp sickle and wanders off into the fields to pick specially planted vetches to feed her rabbits; they will enjoy the herbage and ultimately the family will enjoy the well-fed rabbits. Occasionally she will take a kitchen chair out into the courtyard and sit in the shade of the house, her hands busy with a pile of mending, while the hens scratch about by the doorway and the old black sheep dog sits companionably by her side.
I love the peaceful feeling this little excerpt evokes. The calm, the smells, the sound of birds, as she sits in her garden with the knowledge that the wheel will keep turning and the seasons will repeat along with the rituals. Or we hope it will continue for all time… if we can safeguard our poor world. I would hate to think of the loss of such beauty.
I guess it is nearly time to say goodbye to May and hello to June. Summer is acoming.’ Ciao! Happy Memorial Day to everyone!
Buona domenica tutti! We had some spectacular storms yesterday and early this morning. We really needed the rain and now the world is fresh and clean.
Sunday is the day we have weddings at the Comune next to us. It is like the city hall in the US. Sorta like getting married at the Justice of Peace. Many couples also get married in the church too. As you know I love being the voyeur. Up above the activity, I zoom in on the wedding party. I love looking at what everyone is wearing. The bride wore black today. 😳 I haven’t ever seen a bride wear black. The groom wore his best trainers as did the best man and the flower girl. I know you want to see! 😁 Here ya go!
~~~~~~ On a more serious note. We are devastated by the horrible school massacre in Texas. My heart goes out to the parents, siblings, cousins and friends of these innocents.
On Friday we had our Italian lessons. Luther and I have one hour, one-on-one with our teacher Marilena. We each spent much of our time trying to explain these senseless shootings and the problems in the US that allow these killings to happen again and again.
Later that same afternoon Luther had his normal Friday chat with his student, Irene. (You may remember we each volunteer to speak English with a linguistics student who goes to the University in Siena.) Poor Irene, she just couldn’t understand the culture that could spawn these killers. And why…why!? would people do this? I tell you, it is hard to be an American here right now. How can we begin to explain the US to them?
🌈 I used to say ”andrà tutto bene”. It will get better. But this time, I cannot say that with any belief that it will be true. I despair for my country.
Slowly we get things done on my to-do list. Eye checkups, dental checkups…check. We visited our Commercialista to get our taxes started. This is the other item on the list of things the Questura asked us to get before they will consider giving us the EU Permesso Lungo Periodo. We hope to have this by the first week in June so we can go to the questura before our trip.
I can see ears perking up out there! Yes! we have a Big Trip planned. June 14 to 28. A cruise around Spain and Portugal with a stop in Casablanca with the Windstar line. This time on a yacht called the Star Breeze that holds 300. My sister and her husband are coming too. This will be the first time I have seen my sister in THREE years! The longest we have ever been apart. This trip is the same trip we had planned for July pf 2020. Of course that one never sailed due to the shut down of all cruising because of Covid. We are both super excited. Luther and I have some dear friends coming from Toronto to house and cat sit at our apartment while we are gone. They love our boys and I won’t have to worry about them while we are gone.
Anyway, we have just two weeks and a couple days before we leave. We really want to get the documents requested by the Questura done and turned in before we go. You all know how badly I want this Permisso Illimitato.
~~~~~~~ From time to time Luther sends me a recipe he likes. Truth be told, he sends me at least one a week. They come from the Italian newspaper or from the Dr. Wine site. He complains that I don’t make many of them. I admit, I don’t. Friday, I made a zuppa that he sent. Zuppa di legumi misti, mais, e orzo perlato. It is a mixture of dried beans, farro, lentils (your choice of the mix) with corn and orzo. This is another oddity. Orzo, in the US, is rice shaped pasta. Here, orzo is barley. Here’s a picture. (I added short pasta and potatoes)
~~~~~~~~ I love this time of year. Gone is the winter produce. Now we see ruby red radishes, piles of fava beans and new peas ready to sbucciare, my new word for today. As in to shell, or to peel. Luther will sbuccia all of them for me, and then I do the cooking part 🙂 There is asparagus in heaps, of course. Beautiful bitter greens like arugula, called rucola here. And lettuces. The baby zucchini are just coming in and the cucumbers. I impatiently await the tomatoes but they won’t be here until July, maybe late June.
Today I bought something interesting from one of our nice cheese mongers. She had in her case containers of Sardinian potato dumplings that she had prepared (she is from Sardinia). All I have to do is boil them and serve with a good tomato sauce with basil. I also bought a container of fresh ricotta.
~~~~~~~~ Lunch out Saturday! With friends. We decided on a restaurant in Montone, a nearby hill town. This restaurant has been there since we’ve lived here but in typical Italian fashion it was never open when we tried to go. I heard from friends that it is open now, under new management. It is called Taverna Del Verziere. One of the best features of this place is the views from the walls across the valley from their terazza. Spectacular and oh so pleasant on a summer day.
It is a family run place and they were all super welcoming. I was glad I had reserved since it was pretty packed. Their antipasto menu was interesting. We tried a couple new-to-us things. I had the papapomodoro with seasonal vegetables. A typical Umbrian recipe using stale bread soaked in tomato juices. The veggies were either roasted or pickled. Susan got the roasted purple carrot Hummus.
We both enjoyed them. Luther and Gary got the tagliata with lardo for their secondo. It is grilled steak sliced and they put a very thin piece of Lardo on top. Lardo is a speciality of northern Tuscany. Pork belly lard, the purest white, is packed with herbs into giant marble boxes and left to cure for eight months. Then it can be thinly sliced. When it is placed on hot meat, it melts and adds wonderful unctuous flavor.
Montone is a walled town with several gates through the walls. I love this one and the view.
The Italian language never fails to surprise – and make me crazy. It makes me realize how descriptive English is. As in it has so many different and nuanced ways to use the language. Here, I have always been frustrated by the words hot and warm. In Italian if it is hot it is caldo, and if it is warm, it is caldo. Even worse the words niece, nephew and grandchild are ALL nipote. I just don’t get that! I wanted to say sibling today, so I looked it up. It was fratello. But , I said to myself, that’s the word for brother! So there is no distinction between brother and sibling. What about the girl siblings? ~~~~~~~~ Now is the season of the red spiders. They are on all flat surfaces by the thousands. They are very small. The sun really brings them out. If you wear socks on the terrace the soles become red with squished spiders. It is impossible not to mash them. This is an annual occurrence. It doesn’t last long. Thankfully!
~~~~~~~~ We just read that Italy will require all new construction, both public buildings and private homes, must include solar panels. I think this is such a good idea. It should be just part of the price of building. ~~~~~~~~ This is also the time of May snow (neve a maggio)! One tree here lets loose its fluffy seed puffs into the air. It is so thick in the air it is just like snow. We are lucky to have installed screens in most of our windows. Italians don’t normally have screens. Our big picture window in the living room has no screen. It tips in so we can let in fresh air. But now we cannot open it. It actually will build up until you are wading through heaps of it on your floors. Below is the river, which has a lot of the fluff build up.
On to one of my favorite foods…asparagus in any form. And now is the season when it is plentiful. Happy days!
I am much better now, after a good nights sleep. I went out to the Saturday market for foraging. It happened again. I was standing, awaiting my turn at a vendor with eggs in a big bowl. I watched as each person ahead of me bought the eggs. When I arrived, there were none. The man said to me ”niente frittata oggi”. No fritatta today. Oh well.
But I did get a bunch of asparagus. I cooked it so it was still crisp and I had it for lunch, with, yes, an egg.
So, I promised I would tell you what I bought myself in Verona. You may have guessed already 🙂 asparagi bianchi. White asparagus. Spargel! Here it is! I bought a smaller bunch when we were recently in Milano in a swanky grocery and I paid – gasp – €23 for it. This was a much larger bunch and only €13. Plus the more desirable thick spears.
As you may know, we lived in Germany for 6 years in the 1990s. Our little dorf was called Worfelden. It was situated in the middle of extensive white asparagus (spargel) fields. We moved there in January, not exactly the growing season, but as time when on we observed some very strange farming methods. The sandy soil was hilled up higher and higher until it stood about knee high, and very smooth. We finally got clued in to the Spargel grown there. It is labor intensive. Harvested by hand. They walked the mounds looking for cracks which indicates a spear breaking through. They cut it off down low in the mound and pull the spear out. Then they re-smooth the soil. The spear must never see sunlight or it will not be white.
Springtime is known as Spargel Zeit in Germany. The vegetable is almost holy, the most revered of all vegetables. There are entire menus built around Spargel. The normal way to cook it is to simmer in water and butter until tender. It must cook for longer than green and has a more earthy, less grassy flavor. It is served with new potatoes and sometimes ham or fish with hollandaise sauce. Here is a picture of a spargel field in the harvest season.
Anyway, maybe you understand my love of the vegetable a little more. I miss it.
Unlike green asparagus, the thicker the better as it must be pealed. The outer part is inedible. I have carried around my peeler especially made for white asparagus all these years.
You just hook it around the spear and go down the stalk and a thin layer is removed.
This was our dinner. It was good.
Buona domenica to all. Our weather is amazing right now but I hear a heat wave is headed our way(!)
This is another Trip Report so skip if you’re not interested!
Wednesday May 11 We decided to go to another city in Italy that we had never visited. Verona, city of lovers. Romeo and Juliet and all that…Shakespeare wrote plays based in Verona but he never visited.
We decided to drive mainly because it’s hard to reach by train. It would take six hours so we decided to drive. This presented its own set of problems because we wanted to be in the old city and parking is hard to find. I found a property with only 5 rooms but it had its own parking garage. It is an old Palazzo right in the Centro Storico.
The drive was about 4 hours. Almost all on superstrade – the big highways with tolls. That is, once we got out of Umbria 🙂 Boring drive. We drove north up the Tiber valley into Tuscany and to the head of the valley where the mountains start. The highway is a real feat of engineering. It is raised on pilings the whole way. Under it, or to the sides, runs the old Roman route, still used for local travel. The mountains are very rocky, old and eroded with barren cliffs. Lots of evidence of past seismic activity. I am sure it is still active. There are also Terme – or thermal spring towns along the way. Old Roman baths and spas are still in use. I wish I knew more about geology and rocks.
We popped out of the mountains and we were in Emilia Romagna, said to be the best food in Italy. Home of Balsamic vinegar, Parma ham, Parmesan cheese etc. It is flat, flat, flat and quite industrial but also has acres of fruit trees. Bologna is the biggest and best known city.
We got into the Veneto next, home of Venice. Passing through Padova/Padua and finally we arrived in Verona. By now the landscape had changed into hills and small mountains, Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy is just nearby. And there were grapevines as far as you could see. Valpolicella comes from here, Soave, Prosecco, and one more Lugana.
The city of Verona has a lot of not so pretty suburbs, normal for Italian towns. They do have a good number of parks and green spaces. The Adige river flows through the town and there are numerous bridges. Our GPS took us into the old town, lots of people everywhere, and narrow streets. We found the hotel with only one wrong turn.
Palazzo Monga is beautiful. We were met by Jakub. It is a boutique hotel so there is no front desk always manned by people. We had to give them an arrival time so we would be met. Jakub wore a nice black suit, white shirt, tie, and bright white tennis shoes. His hair, dark, his smile, welcoming and his stubbled chin, perfect. The suite is large with a living room with dining space, big bedroom, large bath and large dressing room. The room has the biggest chandelier in the universe. I can’t figure out how they clean that thing! The ceilings are probably 18-20 feet high. Quite the place. Jakub brought us welcoming Prosecco’s and we left it to him to stow the Giallo Angelo in the car park. We headed out for a walk and look-see. Pretty city. Great shopping. We stopped for a spritz. On our way home we found our restaurant for the first night, Trattoria Pompiere just a few blocks from our hotel.
After showers we headed to dinner which was really fun. The trattoria has been around a long time since the early 1900s. It is known for its meats and cheeses and traditional Veronese dishes. I was looking forward to the asparagus dishes. This is asparagus season and the region grows the famous white asparagus. I have loved what I call Spargel ever since we lived in Germany, many years ago. So I was over the moon with happiness. The white asparagus does not get south of the region.
My appetizer was white asparagus with ham wrapped hard boiled eggs. Quite yummy. And I ordered the Pappardelle with beans. Special to the region beans called Bala Rossa. Luther got the Pappardelle and then Stinco di Maiale. We had a bottle of really nice Valpolicella. I got a scoop of pistacchio gelato and Luther got a grappa, which they told us were on the house. A fun dinner.
Thursday May 12 We sprang for the breakfast this morning. It is ordered a la carte, delivered at the time you specify and you can order as much as you want for the price. Of course we ordered more than we could eat😁 so we have plenty left over for tomorrow. It will work out well.
We headed out for our walking tour of Verona. Luther was our tour guide. We started by going to Piazza Erbe. It was originally a Roman forum. The name erbe means herbs and it was known for various aromatic spices, herbs, coffees etc. imported from Venice where they had come from all over the world. There are many notable buildings and an impressive bell tower. The buildings span varied architecture, Romanesque, Neoclassical and Baroque. I will try to put in the captions below the pictures what they are (If I can remember!)
Behind Piazza Erba was Piazza dei Signori, or Lords Square. This square has a strong connection with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It was the setting where Bartolomeo della Scala banished Romeo to exile. Just past this piazza was Arche Scaligeri and the Scaligeri Tombs. Very impressive. I loved the horse and rider atop the church.
Of course we had to see Juiliet’s balcony. It can be a madhouse full of tourists with long lines to get into the small piazza. We lucked out and it wasn’t too bad. Of course, it isn’t really Juliet’s balcony it was only addd in the 20th century for tourists, but thousands come every year to see it.
We walked on down to the main shopping street. along the way was this beautiful bougainvillea on a balcony.
On the shopping street I snapped this door handle on a dress shop.
Next we visited Piazza Bra. The biggest Piazza I’ve ever seen. It is home of the famous Arena di Verona. The arena still has opera and concerts of all types. It holds 15,000 about half of what it held during Roman times. I was a little disappointed that only one part of it is actually from the Roman era. We sat down for a glass of wine and for some good people watching. There were scads of school groups EVERYWHERE today. It is the season for field trips.
Next we crossed the Adige river, clear and fast moving and shallow. There were many what looked to be River Trout easily spotted. We used a medieval bridge called Ponte di Castelvecchio. Pedestrian and made of bricks. Once across we followed a pleasant walking path along the river. There were some very beautiful apartment buildings with pretty apartments with amazing river and old town views. Bet they’d set you back a bit. Crossing back over the river we were just near our hotel.
We went looking for a place for lunch, which was harder than I had anticipated but we found, on a small side street, Osteria “Le Vecete”. It was perfect. We sat outside and had a light lunch with wine. I had Spaghetti with pomodorini, buratta and basil. Luther had the octopus salad with olives, tomatoes and potatoes. Both were very good.
Dinner at L’Oste Scura. All seafood. We decided on trying three oysters on the half shell each. I had some misgivings about ordering them since the last three times I did I got sick. Then we had the mixed seafood crudo and I had Scallops and Luther had Amberjack. The place was lovely. We sat outside and it was warm and low-lit. The service was great.
After dinner we walked back to our street. We passed the below restaurant, super old fashioned looking but very cool. It was completely empty save for a lone waiter. We went to a small bar with tables outside so Luther could smoke a small cigar he bought. A fun evening.
Friday May 13 All good things sometimes come to a premature end. And they did for this trip. I did indeed get sick again during the night. I must have developed an allergy to Oysters. So sad as I did/do love them. They just don’t love me.
In the morning I didn’t feel I was up to sight seeing so we decided to head home early. I am very sorry not to finish our visit in Verona. We had planned to see the churches and then a Roman amphitheater with views of the town and then maybe the modern art museum. But we saw a lot and if you only have one day then our walking tour was perfect. ~~~~~~ I had to take photos of the coolest bidet I have ever seen. It was in our hotel bathroom. Such a good space saving idea. Bathrooms are required to have a bidet in Italy. In your home you must have at least one bidet, in one bathroom.
I did buy myself a souvenir yesterday but you all will have to wait until my next post to see what it is. 🙂
Before the Comune was closed for renovation, all the weddings happened right down below our house. I loved looking at the outfits and watching the festivities. Then it all ended as they closed the building. I missed them…but NOW! They are back. Today I took a few pictures of the wedding below. I love looking at the fashions. It took a little while to figure out who the bride was because she was wearing a denim jacket…Maybe she was cold…but forever after all her wedding photos will show her in her fashionable denim jacket. If you want to see other weddings, including our first same sex wedding, the bride who wore orange because she was a Vespa club member, and the one in the bright red stilettos put weddings in the search field on the right.
And now for the groom. Man-bun and beautifully tailored slim-cut suit. And the shoes! Yes, brilliant white tennis shoes…no socks. It is the fashion here. Tennis shoes, trainers and other casual shoes. Note the red high-tops in this picture below. The happy couple refused to face my direction…sorry!
I love this one. The little girls in their fancy outfits throwing rose petals at the groom.
I am happy to say…the double kiss is back! During Covid I was afraid it was gone forever.
Remember last market day? Last Wednesday? When I got shut out? Well, today was a new day! Asparagus was available in abundance. And I got some! I also got new garlic(!) and the first local strawberries.
One of the things I see most discussed among people who aspire to move to Italy, is Visas. I showcase the different types in my page So You’ve Decided to Move to Italy. The latest news is about Italy’s recent adoption of the Digital Nomad Visa. The final requirements aren’t ironed out but this is my updated write-up of what’s known now.
Digital Nomad: (DNV) At the end of March 2022 Italy passed a bill allowing Digital Nomad visas. This is for highly skilled professionals who will work in Italy for themselves or remotely for a non-Italian company. The Visa will be good for one year with the possibility of extending for one more. As of this writing the requirements have not been firmed up. What I read though, is that the individual consulates will have major discretionary powers, as to whether they issue or don’t issue a DNV. The applications will need to be completely bulletproof like those for the Elective Residency Visa. It may require the official recognition of one’s professional qualifications. An applicant may need to show an advanced degree, proof of operating in the field (probably for several years) for which they want to apply for the DNV, a tax return from their home country, and health insurance. It has already been announced that they will need to be completely tax compliant in Italy, so applicants are advised they should consult a tax expert in Italy, if they want to apply for this visa.
I will update this as I learn more. It seems many people think they can move anywhere with no real limitations. But people should ask themselves, would the US let just anyone in with no limitations or requirements? I think not. And it works the same for all countries. You need to get the proper permissions.
Even after nearly eight years here we also have to continue our responsibility to update/renew our permissions to continue living here. As some of you know, we are working to get our permanent residence permit. We have two new, required documents to obtain that the Questura has asked for. The first one is the Certificato d’abilita’. We had already gotten our apartment assessed by our Geometra last year. We mistakenly thought this was what was needed for the long term permit, but it was not. Turns out the steps to get the certificato were many. First we had to buy a Marca da bollo at the Tabaccharia for €16.00. Then we had to make an appointment at the bank in the Piazza (not our bank) and pay a fee at the teller. Then the form had to be returned to the Comune this time to the Protocol office. They told us we had to get ANOTHER Marca da Bollo, then return to the very first guy who would issue the certificato. I am happy to say, last Friday, we got it! Who says things are hard to get done in Italy! 😁
We are now halfway there! We must wait until June so we can file our taxes for this year. Then we can provide the requested tax form. I sure hope after all this we get the cards! Piano, piano…
As a reward we treated ourselves to the seasons first Spritz!