Category Archives: cooking

Regional meal — Umbria

Tonight is Regional meal night from Calagrana. This time from our very own Umbria. We opted in for the wine since it is a new one to us. I am especially looking forward to the Torta al Testo. Fatta in casa….home-made.

Torta al testo is very old and it originated in the Umbrian area. It began as an unleavened alternative to traditional bread. There are two variants: the original one with wheat flour, and later came one with corn flour, after corn arrived from the Americas. Normal ingredients are only water, flour, salt and baking soda. In the upper Tiber valley, where we live, I read there’s is a similar cake called ciacca (probably dialect), the recipe involves the addition of an egg. This, I have not yet verified.

The cooking surface, a disc about 3 cm thick, is called “testo” from the Latin testum, or the brick tile on which, in ancient Rome, focaccias were baked. Originally it was made at home by making large stones into a smooth surface and placing it into the fire to heat. Now it is possible to buy a special Torta al Testo pan made of cast iron or concrete.

Traditionally the Torta al Testo was split and eaten with any meats or foraged greens. But it is most often seen eaten with the pork products for which Umbria is famous. Our friend Vera invited us to lunch in the Before Times and she asked her mother-in-law (suocera) to make some. She does make the best I’ve ever had. They have a huge outdoor wood oven to make it authentically. It smelled so floury and bready, and it was very soft. I could’ve munched it all day. But this day I learned the traditional way to eat it, with halved sausages and cooked spinach. It was incredible. I had to borrow a picture. Photo credit to Dreavel.com. This is the traditional way. I may have to try my hand at making some myself!

I didn’t actually know Pollo all’arrabbiata (arrabbiata means angry and says it will be spicy) was an Umbrian dish. I must look it up. We finished our meal and it was scrumptious. Here are pictures.

plated and ready to eat
Eating!
Torta al testo
Vino

Italiano phrase…”fare la scarpetta”. This needs some explanation. Literally it means “make the little shoe” but it is a saying. If you have sauce left on your plate you use the bread to sop up the sauce. Or you “make the little shoe”. Pronounced fah-ray lah scar-pet-ta.
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Stay safe everyone, andrà tutto bene 🌈

Moonset – times two…

I was up at 6am Saturday and from the window I saw the full moon setting with a reflection in the Tiber. I went out in the cold in my nightgown to snap a picture. Brrrrr. Mornings are still very cold here.

But, Saturday was sunny and warm in the Piazza. We headed out to do some errands and visit our local market to see what was to be seen. I bought a few things at the market. Broccoli/broccole and Cauliflower/cavolfiore are always around this time of year. Some fresh eggs. And I got the ever present Cavolo Nero or black kale. Luther bought six bottles of vino bianco from our local winery. The nice lady there is always so excited when we come. I don’t think she sells much 😞 So we are happy to support them and the wine is good!

We also drove to a store and bought some pellets for our stufa, and visited the grocery for some supplies. I bought carciofi romana…artichokes …because I saw a picture of someone cooking them and it made me drool…🤤
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Carciofi Romana Why have I never made this before! It is so good. And really not so hard. I had four artichokes and I cleaned them and prepped them for the pot. Then I rubbed them in garlic, mint, salt and pepper.

I put them into a pot and poured the olive oil over them, then added the water and brought to a simmer. I put a lid on the pot to let it cook.

After thirty minutes they were done. Very yummy and garlicky. I served them as a first course before our hamburgers 🤣😂

The ingredients are few. I did four artichokes but you can do as many as you want. You can look on the internet to see how to trim them if you haven’t done it before. You’ve got to be pretty ruthless. Most of it goes in the trash. If you’re not cooking right away put them in a bowl of lemon water so they won’t discolor. Chop about a tablespoon of mint and garlic fine, add a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Rub the artichoke cut parts in it. Put them face down with stems up in the pot. Put the heat on medium. Pour about half a cup of olive oil over them. Add about a cup of water. Lower heat and simmer 30 minutes. Serve warm.
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Moderately good news. Umbria has gone back the Orange Zone. This does very little for us except people can sit outside a cafe for coffee, and the dress shops will be open again. I think that’s about it. We still can’t leave our Comune. I don’t mind telling you, we are all bored out of our gourds here. If they’d let us go into a Zone Yellow we could at least travel in the region of Umbria and the restaurants could open for lunch. Maybe soon 🤞🤞
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Italiano for today. “Ho incontrato un amico in piazza e abbiamo fatto due chiacchiere” In English, “I met a friend in the square and we had a chat.” Pronounced — oh in-con-trah-toe un ah-me-ko in pee-ahtz-zo A ahb-bee-ahmo faht-toe dew-ay key-AH-key-err-ray. The word Chiacchiere is a really hard one for me to pronounce. They really accent the second syllable. And they roll all their Rs. Really roll them which I cannot put in my pronunciation. Many English speakers have difficulty rolling their Rs. When I was little I used to do a lot of sound affects with my toys. So rolling my Rs is natural! 😁
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Stay safe everyone, buona domenica! 🌈

La cena regionale

The weather has been so perfect lately, I took the opportunity to walk around town and take some pictures. I got a lot of doors but I am going to save them for the next post. Pigeons have plenty of places to perch and nest. This is one of the defensive towers in the town walls.

Laundry day and sunny walls.

One thing I noticed that is different here in Italy than in the US is that there are no advertisements in our mail. No catalogs. Nor are there requests for financial support by charities or foundations like the ubiquitous Alzheimer’s Association. We ONLY get real mail. The occasional card or letter from a friend or utility bills. That’s all we get. BUT people do get Pubblicità — junk from stores stuffed in all the mailboxes advertising sale items or weekly specials…these are not through the Poste. They are carried by people hired to distribute them. And there are a LOT. They are messy. They get rained on or they end up on the ground, tossed there by someone too lazy to take them to the trash. You can put a sign on your mailbox that says “No Pubblicità“ and in theory, you will stop getting these. We have a sign. And for the most part we don’t get the ads. Once or twice a week we get something stuffed in, even with our sign. Here is a typical group of mailboxes stuffed with Pubblicità.

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Tonight is the next stop on the Calagrana Regional Culinary Tour. This time it is from Toscana. Our next door neighbor. We are only a few miles from the border.

And….here’s dinner!

Italiano phrase – “ci sono troppe pubblicità” In Englese – “there are too many advertisements” Pronounced…chee so-no trohp-pay poob-blee-chee-TA.
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Buon fine settimana! Stay safe….Andrà tutto bene!🌈

Regional dinner…Venezia

Today we are having a dinner courtesy of Calagrana, delivered to our door. A speciality of the Venetian region, and specifically to Venice. Baccalà is salt cod. Reconstituted it is a speciality of many regions. This one, with potatoes, is yummy.

We opted out of the wine pairing on my personal sommeliers recommendation 🙂 The dinner was really good and I’m not a big fan of Baccalà.
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Phrase…”ora di cena. mangiamo” English…”time for dinner. Let’s eat”. Pronounced…ora dee chayna. Mahn-gee-ahm-oh.
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Stay safe…springtime is coming! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Reading Italian recipes

We bought the Corriere della Sera and the Corriere del Umbria at the Tabac this week. I will tell you we buy the newspaper because we need the newspaper for other uses, after it’s been read. Like cleaning out the stufa, or under the cat dishes, or for making a fire…Luther reads it online anyway. And I sometimes read the Umbria version.

So this week there was a whole section on cooking. I love cooking as everyone knows and so I read it avidly…if slowly. I am actually at a B2 level of Cooking Italian. I can normally read recipes and articles about cooking very easily.

I had already thawed a package of coniglio for dinner. That’s rabbit for those who want to know. And there was a recipe for it in this newspaper. I read through the ingredients and saw I had them all. I decided to make it for dinner tonight. One of the ingredients was a cup of coffee… I was intrigued, what an interesting thing to have in the dish. But when I read through the recipe instructions there was no mention of the “cup of coffee” being added. I needed a second opinion. Luther read it through and between he and I we figured out the “cup of coffee” was a “measurement amount” of an ingredient, not an actual ingredient.

This is really quite normal. They don’t use cups and teaspoons and tablespoons here. Most things are by weight so you need a scale. In addition to weights you will see a bicchiere of such and such, or a glass of it. And a cucchiaio of oregano – a spoonful. But I had never seen 1 tazza da caffe aghi di rosmarino. I thought they were two different things…a tazza di caffe, and the fronds of rosemary. But I never thought it was a coffee cup size amount of fronds of rosemary. Now in retrospect it is a funny misinterpretation on my part! You live and learn.

Here is the dish. It said to serve it with risotto con pesto. So I did. But this in itself is a major error on my part. An intentional error as I knew risotto is ALWAYS served as a primi. And alone as it should be. It is NEVER a side. The coniglio is served as a secondi. Never, ever together on the plate. We Americans are used to the meat, the veg, and the starch on one plate. But not in Italy! I’m sure the writer meant them to be 2 different piatti. We enjoyed both courses on our one plate. [recipe here]

Italian phrase. “Domani e venerdì” English “Tomorrow is Friday” pronounced, doe-mah-nee A ven-er-DEE.
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Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Maybe this is our last cold snap?

The days are a lot longer now. Our terrace gets no sun at all in the winter. But as the sun moves along the horizon suddenly the pantry window starts getting sun just before sunset. Today I noticed it’s shining halfway down that wall. It is my method to monitor the progress of the lengthening days and the approaching spring. 🍀 Grateful.
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Tonight for dinner we had Spaghetti Carbonara. The traditional Roman recipe. There was no record of this recipe before 1950. It was first mentioned after the end of WWII. The American GIs had eggs! And they had bacon! No one else did. They shared with the Italians who had little to eat. And they’d bring them to the restaurants and give them to the chefs to use to make some pasta for them. The chefs came up with Spaghetti Carbonara. Anyway, that’s the story! Such an easy dish. Only guanciale or pancetta, egg yolks, grated pecorino cheese, black pepper and spaghetti.

Sentence. “la primavera sta arrivando!” – “Spring is coming!” Pronounced…La preema-vara stah are-riv-ahndo.

Umbria vaccinated 1,331 eighty year olds yesterday. We have begun. Stay safe everyone., 🌈

We have news!

My friend Susan posted some information she found about the vaccines for we Umbria residents.
“There will be 3 ways we can make an appointment for the vaccine: go through a web site, use and 800 number or go to the pharmacy. We are registered by year of birth, so we need the Codice Fiscale to verify. Then we will be sent a text message telling us where and when we get the vaccine. People 80 and over are first up then the rest of us staggered by year of birth. And the vaccines will be given in Umbertide. We’ll see how this all works, but it is at least step One.”

Thanks for posting Susan! It makes me feel we have some organization and plan, since we have heard very little until now.
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Big snow storm coming tonight and it will be the first “actual storm” since we’ve been here. Predicting 15cm of snow. That’s around 6”. For us, that is a lot. I am excited! Pictures will follow…
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Tonight we will be having the regional dinner provided by Calagrana. Delivered to our door. This evening it will be Trentino Alto Adige.

Sentence for today. “per stanotte è prevista neve!” in English, “snow is predicted for tonight!” Pronounced…Per stah-note-tay A pre-vista nay-vay.

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Stay safe ! 🌈

Permessi

So, you probably read that I found out our Permessi di Soggiorno were ready in a previous post? And I said we would have to wait, with the Zone Red. The story was not finished…

For some reason, this morning I asked Luther to check his phone for an SMS. The Questura is supposed to send us one when the PdS is ready. Sure enough, he had been sent one last Wednesday. Our appointment was February 10…February 10th!!? That was today. I looked outside at the wind driven rain and sighed. With the appointment on the phone we could leave our Comune. So we decided to “man up” and go.

We drove the 20 kilometers to Città di Castello. The rain, thankfully, let up on the way. I admired all the brilliant green fields and mountainsides. The winter wheat is so welcome about now when everything is gray. But the wheat! It is neon!

Arriving at the Questura we saw no one standing outside the door. This was odd. Usually there is a crowd. We parked and walked to the gate where there was a sign. It said it was closed until February 21 for the Permesso di Soggiorno. Oh well. No matter. The sun came out on the way home but black clouds loomed ahead. We visited the Wednesday market for some produce and retreated before the rain. Piano, piano as they say here. Slowly, slowly. In due time we will get the Permessi 🙂
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Now it is late afternoon and there is an ENORMOUS thunderstorm looming from the north. I took some pictures. It is pretty impressive. The sun is shining in the foreground and on the hills. The storm is a very black cloud behind. It sets off the sun very well. I love the contrast. And the thunder rumbles….

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A friend of mine and I were discussing food…it is an obsession in Italy…and after sharing the recipes we had been trying he said…”we have to keep our strength up for whatever”. And I laughed and laughed…yes we DO! Eating well is our best defense. And it gives us something to do.

Singapore Teochew Braised Duck is the next meal.  Luther is a huge duck fan. Always pestering me to cook a duck. I like duck. I just don’t like COOKING duck. I had duck parts. About half a duck chopped up. We bought it in the super mercato here in town. I decided roasting was not the way to go with parts. So I searched on braised duck and picked this one.

It was good. Had a nice broth from the braising. It included soy sauce, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, ginger root, garlic, onion. I made basmati rice. I put some of the broth over it. It was very tasty. I would make it again. I even have left over broth for another use.
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Italian sentence. “Domani è un altro giorno, proprio come oggi.“ in English, “Tomorrow is another day, just like today”. Doh-mah-nee A un al-tro gee-or-no, pro-pree-oh coh-may  ohg-gee. 🙂
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Stay safe! 🌈

Pasta for dinner!

Luther subscribes to Doctor Wine, an Italian wine and food site. Often I will find, in my inbox, a recipe he has forwarded that he has decided I should make. Every now and then I decide to make one and yesterday I did. This one was called Busiate al pesto di pistacchio e salmone affumicato or Pasta with pistachio pesto and smoked salmon.

Busiate is a fat long shaped pasta. It is made by wrapping maccheroni around a stem of a plant called Busa which grows in Sicily. This makes it a long twist of pasta. The pasta is a special shape from Trapani province on the west coast. It is traditionally served with a pesto made of almonds, pecorino cheese, garlic and olive oil.

I didn’t have Busiate so I used a fat spaghetti noodle. I have since found I can get the Busiate from Eataly. I will probably order some. Here’s the finished product. It was very tasty.

If anyone wants to try it the recipe is in the pull down menu [Recipes] at the top of the page. Also at the bottom of this page.
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Italian sentence for today. “Ho mangiato bene!” In English, “I have eaten well!”. Pronounced — oh man-gee-ah-toe ben-ay! You can say this after you’ve eaten in a restaurant and it will make them happy.🙂
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Stay safe all my friends! 🌈

Busiate con pesto di pistacchi e salmone affumicato
Serves 2
250 grams Busiate or fat spaghetti (about 8 ounces)
200 grams pistachios shelled and peeled (7 ounces)
50 grams olive oil (1/4 cup)
Salt
100 grams smoked salmon (3.5 ounces)
50 grams pistachios chopped (1.75 ounces)
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Olive oil
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Blend the pistachios with extra virgin olive oil and a little tepid water to obtain a soft cream. Adjust the salt. (I used an immersion blender to make the pesto.) Set aside.

Chop the smoked salmon, leaving 2 whole slices aside for decoration. Set aside.

Cook pasta in abundant, well salted water. Cook until barely al dente. Save a cup of the pasta water and put the drained pasta in a big roomy pan. Add pesto and chopped salmon. Toss over heat, adding some pasta water (not too much at first) to make a nice sauce in which to finish cooking the pasta. Add more water as necessary. When the water is absorbed and the sauce looks creamy, serve with the decorative salmon strips, the chopped pistachios and the grated lemon peel on top. Garnish with good olive oil.

Covid

A little thing I just realized…this is the first time in my adult life that I don’t know who is playing in the Super Bowl. And I just read that this coming Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday 😏. It is also the next super-spreader event…some advice, Don’t organize a party at home. Don’t go to a Super Bowl party.
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It’s time to update on our Covid situation and also talk about the future of travel to and from Italy. The emergency declaration which allows the government to make quick decisions about Covid issues has been extended until mid-April and it will probably be extended again.

Most of Italy has been rated Zone Yellow. Unfortunately we here in Umbria are Zone Orange, threatening to tip over into Zone Red. We have a steady increase of cases. This morning I read two cases of the new Brazilian strain of the virus were found here. I also heard the worst numbers are in the Perugia province of Umbria. In Umbertide we have a very famous rehabilitation center, Prosperious. Turns out there are 26 cases just in that center alone! It has necessitated the close of our hospital.

Speaking of hospitals, the big medical center university hospital in Perugia, Sibillini, is being hammered. There was a photo with a line of ambulances waiting at the Pronto Socorso (emergency). They have closed it except for Covid and emergencies. They are not allowing any visitors. This is particularly hard on Italians as they expect to practically live in the hospital with their family or friends.

Vaccines. We have heard our age group has been pushed to no sooner than April. They are still vaccinating over 80 year olds and health workers. We visited our doctor today and she says they have no idea what is happening with the vaccine. So we wait. I read an interesting article in the Washington Post about what people who HAVE been vaccinated should be able to do, and not do. The biggest issue seems to be the new strains which are loose practically everywhere now. The UK, South African, and Brazilian strains. No one knows if the vaccine people are getting now, will be protection against the new strains. And no one knows if a person who has been vaccinated can still carry the virus and infect others. This means people who are vaccinated can feel a bit safer themselves against catching it or getting very ill if they do, but they still need to wear masks etc to protect others. Because of the uncertainty I think they still recommend against traveling even if you’ve been vaccinated.

Travel. The EU, and Italy, have no plans to loosen the travel restrictions. In fact things are tightening up even more. The Italian government updates its rules and restrictions about every 2 weeks. And they don’t try to predict any farther into the future than that. So there’s no way to tell when the travel ban will be lifted. My guess is not until most Italians have gotten the vaccine and we have gotten the disease under control here. We are far from that right now. They don’t predict the third group of people (under 60) to be vaccinated until October or November at the earliest. I don’t think 2021 will be the year tourists return to Italy. 🙁
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Flatbread!
Today I decided to make a old recipe I’ve been making for years. Rosemary flatbread. I ordered some dry yeast on Amazon because the stuff you get here is very unpredictable. This is just like the Fleischmans I used to get in the States. So to try it out, I made…flatbread! It was thicker than my previous loaves because I don’t have my big cast iron pan here. Still it was tasty.

Sentence in Italian “Il tempo non è freddo questa settimana” in English, “The weather is not cold this week”. Pronounced – eel temp-o non A fred-doh quest-ah set-tee-mahn-ah.

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Stay safe. Don’t go to a super bowl party! Andrà tutto bene 🌈