Category Archives: cooking

Asparagi – asparagus – spargel

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.

Photo credit – WINE NAVI Germany

Anyway, maybe you understand my love of the vegetable a little more. I miss it.

I will cut the ends off.

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(!)

Hah!

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.

I am looking forward to using these.
Very mild, but unmistakably garlic.
They could be sweeter…but it’s early in the season yet.

Mmmmm looking forward to using all these! 🌈

Carciofi in Umido

Since today is the last day of April, I wanted to do a post showcasing a dish from the book “The Tuscan Year”. As you may recall, I have been doing an excerpt from the book each month. The month of April was dedicated to Easter. The traditions are strong. Easter Saturday is the traditional time to plant vegetables. Beans, peas, zucchini, carrots, onions, potatoes, parsley and basil.

When this book was written in the 1980s, the parish priest still visited households to bless the house and family during Holy Week. An ancient tradition. The house was cleaned, top to bottom and the Priest sprinkled holy water into each room. Later the Priest returned for a big lunch after visiting other houses. Blessing is apparently hard work!

The culinary traditions are also strong for the Easter Feast. The Primi, or pasta course is always the celebratory dish, Lasagna. Roasted lamb is always the Secondi. Artichokes, in abundance at this time, were prepared multiple ways as part of the antipasto. I decided to try to make the Carciofi in Umido, stewed artichokes. Lets hope this one has better results than my disastrous frittata in March. 😂
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Recipe – Carciofi in Umido
Four Roman artichokes
50 gr butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
salt and pepper

Trim the artichokes of the stems and outer leaves. Enlarge the hole at the top, between the leaves. Dice the cold butter, mince garlic and parsley and mix together. Add salt. Place some of this mixture inside each artichoke. Put a very little olive oil and a spoon of water into a pan. Place the artichokes in, leaves facing down. They should fit tightly in the pan so they won’t fall over. cover with greaseproof paper and cover the pan tightly. Steam them gently. They are done when the stem end can easily be pierced with a knife. Serve with a little of the buttery garlic sauce which will have collected in the bottom of the pan.

Local Roman artichokes.
Leaves separated for stuffing.
Stuffed with butter and garlic.
Smallest pot I have.

Today, my lunch is stewed artichokes. They turned out delicious. Just right for a light lunch along with some of the Munster cheese from the French market.

Tomorrow is European Labor day. May Day. A holiday but since it is Sunday not a big thing. Buona domenica, and buona Festa dei Lavoratori!

Catching up…

It’s been a while…so to do some recap. We have been working on the Certificato d’abilita’ and I will report back once we have gotten it. I visited the Saturday mercado which was pretty sparse. The vendors who came had very limited produce because we are at the changing seasons. One vendor, who wasn’t there yesterday, had sweet radishes last week (I know, an oxymoron but it this case true ) and also local asparagus, so I was hoping for that. I was sorry he wasn’t there.. I settled for local potatoes, onions, lettuce and spring onions.

After my shopping we had a meet up with friends who live in Foligno. We hadn’t seen each other since pre-Covid…about four years. We met up at Ristorante UNE for lunch. I posted about this restaurant recently. It did not disappoint. Here are pictures of our lunch.

Gifts from the chef
Pancake stuffed with cheese and topped with grape jelly
Trumpet mushroom with white truffles and sour cream
Local artisanal beans with smoked eel from Trasimeno lake – amazing
Lamb with cauliflower two ways
Dessert – pain perdu with gelato.

Today I made a soup. It is cold and very windy outside. It feels like soup weather. Soon, it won’t be soup weather anymore. The soup is made from a legume native to central Italy, so it is not something a person can make elsewhere. The legume is Cicercchie. I posted about it previously. It must be soaked and rinsed for 24 hours because it has neurotoxins. They are not dangerous if not eaten everyday. If you visit Italy keep an eye out for some.They are delicious. Here is the previous post.

My soup today is super easy. Cook a chopped onion until soft. Add water or stock and soaked and drained (several times) Cicercchie legumes plus 3 peeled and cut into chunks potatoes, salt and a sprig of rosemary. Cook 1+ hours until the soup is thickened. Adjust salt, add plenty of ground pepper. Serve with parsley, good olive oil and cheese if desired. So good, and healthy too.

Buona domenica a tutti!

Long term Permesso – the saga continues

In Italy, there is a word they use often, ”Lo stress”. Yes, it means exactly what it sounds like – The Stress. Today, we are dealing with lo stress of dealing with the Italian bureaucracy once again.

If you’ve been reading this journal for a while you know of what I speak. For those who don’t know — a short recap. When you move to Italy, after you get your Visa, the first thing you need to do is apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to Stay – PdS). It should be done within eight days of your arrival. I won’t go into details of how you get one but suffice it to say it takes time, several appointments, and money. In Umbria, one must apply to renew it every year before it expires. The process can take a year and then you begin again. The light at the end of the tunnel is the possibility, after five years continual residence, of getting the Permesso di soggiorno UE per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (ex carta di soggiorno) – elective residence. This is a permanent long term permit to stay. Need I say this is a coveted thing?

We will have lived here eight years in June. We are past due for this card. Covid interfered with us pursuing this. We tried last year but two documents were expired. So this year, we try again. Today was our appointment at the Questura. We expected to find out if we would be getting the Card. I bet, no matter how thorough you try to be when you apply, they will find something that you missed. Today, we found out the two things that we are missing.

One item is a document from our Comune which attests to the fact that our house meets the standards for two people to live here. We had our Geometra do the assessment and we included this in the packet, apparently, they need this other form. We visited the Ufficio Technico where we found out what to bring to get this document. Fifteen minutes later we returned with said papers and the office was locked. We checked the hours. They were supposed to be open. Sigh. Happens all the time. We will try again tomorrow. Comically, I can look right into this office from my Living Room window!

The second item is a 2022 tax form certifying our income from 2021. We contacted our commercialista – she said the form does not exist until June. And that the 2021 form is in force. Sigh. I think we should just take the email we got and the form for last year back to the Questura. Luther says he will call them.

To be honest, I think this is not too bad. It looks like we will, eventually, have these two items. The only issue is when…and whether, in the meantime, those two time sensitive forms will expire — again. It is always something!
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Let’s talk about something more fun. I am a notoriously poor baker. But I threw caution to the wind and decided to make a quiche for dinner last night. First hurdle was making the crust. I tried a recipe I had and miracle of miracles, it came out perfect! Then I used another recipe for quiche I but substituted the vegetables, using some things I got at the market yesterday. I used leeks, mushrooms and broccoli rabe. It called for cheddar cheese but that’s very hard to come by around here. So I used the cheese most common here, pecorino fresca. I added an extra egg and a little more cream because the eggs here are not graded by size. No such thing as extra large eggs. These were fresh eggs from local chickens. Anyway, the quiche came out perfect and it tasted great. I served it with a green salad…a perfect dinner.

Marzo

We are now, finally, and happily, in March. The weather will be very changeable as it is most everywhere this month. This next week we will have -3C at night which is around 25F. The temperatures in the daytime rise to the 50s. If you find a sun-trap, like in front of Bar Mary you can sit outside for a caffe or vino quite comfortably.

This post will be another one based on the book ”The Tuscan Year” – I am doing one each month. I started in January for those new to this journal. Look for one each month.

  1. The first post, in January.
  2. The second post – February.

February/March is the time the ewes are birthing their lambs. About now the lambs are sufficiently weaned for their mothers to be milked. The milk will make the pecorino cheese. This is the most prevalent cheese in both Tuscany and Umbria. The book goes extensively into how the farm-women make their cheeses.

We can buy the cheeses just about everywhere. I prefer to get mine from the Saturday kilometer zero market. They are made right around here. There are two vendors who bring their cheeses.

The recipe I picked to show here is Frittata con Cacio. Cacio or caciotto are the names of pecorino in local dialect. [I just learned that since the book was written these words have come to have a new meaning. Now they are cows cheese. But I won’t change the title of the recipe.]

For two people you will need two tablespoons of olive oil, four slices of fresh pecorino cheese. (you can use gruyere or sharp cheddar too), four eggs, salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a heavy omelette pan, put in the cheese slices and cook on each side until they are slightly melted. Beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Now raise the heat and pour the eggs on top of the cheese. Let the eggs set on the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to a very gentle flame and continue to cook untill eggs are cooked through. now, slide the frittata out onto a plate. Raise the heat under the pan until the oil becomes very hot, then smartly reverse the frittata uncooked side down back into the pan. Coraggio! it isn’t so difficult. The Cerottis eat fritatte as a super dish. This would also make a delicious small lunch with a fresh green salad and a bottle of Verdicchio.”

So, I tried to make this dish for Luther and I. Here we go!

First the, very minimal ingredients.

Then, I fried the cheese in olive oil and used a non-stick pan.

I added the eggs after flipping the cheese.

EPIC FAIL. When I had cooked the eggs I was supposed to *slide* the fritatta onto a plate. Uh-huh. The entire thing was stuck solid in the pan. In the end I scraped it together and finished cooking it. My suspicion is that I didn’t have low enough heat to cook the eggs.

It actually was a nice dinner. Very cheesy and eggy, with a crunchy bottom. It just was not a fritatta. We had gone out to lunch today so we didn’t want a heavy, big dinner. So all’s well that ends well!

If anyone tries this, let me know how it goes. If you’re successful do share what you did!

Buona domenica

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.

Have a nice Sunday everyone!💕

Le orecchiette con rapini

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.

Super good. Super easy. Super healthy!

This & that

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!

Minestra di Fagioli – my way

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!! 🎺🎺

Buon appetito!