Category Archives: Eating

Trip report – short trip to Milano

If you don’t like Trip Reports you can skip this one.
WARNING: this post includes a LOT of food pictures 😁
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We left home Tuesday morning at 9:30 to catch a train from the Terontola/Cortona station. This is around a 30-40 minute drive from our house. It is on the main Rome Florence line and has free parking.

The local train from Terontola to Florence was 15 minutes late. Our transfer time in Florence from our train to the Frecciarossa to Milano was….15 minutes! 😳 We went as fast as possible. The train was a little late so we managed to get on. Whew. I adore the Frecciarossa trains. They reach speeds of 300 kph and have four classes of seats. We always go in the Area Silenzio. The quiet car. Business class. Super comfy seats.

We arrived in Milano and grabbed a taxi. All of the taxis we took here had very garrulous drivers. We got to our hotel, the Spadari al Duomo which is really nice. We stayed here on our one and only other visit to Milano. It is very close to the Duomo. Our room was nice with a balcony and a bathtub, which Luther loves. The only odd thing was our artwork in the room. A bit unsettling. Slug women. 😳

We immediately set out for a giro around the neighborhood. We found and visited the famous Galleria Vitoria Emanuele II. A shopping *mall* under high glass domes. Very fancy. I took a bunch of photos of the fancy wares…and some not-so-fancy wares.

The hat below. It looks like a hat I’d wear fishing. Prada. €460.00. Uh huh, right.

Surprisingly I didn’t buy anything. But Luther bought a book and some Cuban cigars. Afterwards, on the advice of one of the nice folks who read this journal and leave comments, we went to Aperol Terrazza. It is up on the 3rd floor and has outside space just next to the famous Duomo. They are known for the ubiquitous drink, the Aperol Spritz. I chose something different but we sat outside and it was a fun thing to do. They had nice heaters that keep people warm-ish.

View from the bar.

Walking through the enormous space in front of the Duomo we noticed some young men. I was taken by the outfit of one of them!

We returned to check out the shop next to our hotel. It is like a very, very upscale gourmet market. It has a big basement area with wines. Upstairs there is a produce area, candy area, all kinds of prepared foods, veggies, meats, seafoods, salads, the biggest cheese selection I’ve ever seen, bread and some cured meats.  Cool place where you can drop big bucks.

Back in our room and while waiting for dinner we ordered a bottle of wine and had a glass before we took a taxi to our restaurant which was chosen by Luther, the Ristorante Niko Romito in the Hotel Bulgari.

Just before we arrived we came to a gate. No one is getting in if they are not expected or a taxi. I realized this was a super high roller enclave. Then we went down a short street which dead ended into a botanical garden. The hotel was secluded and quiet. There was a circle in front of the hotel and all around they had crammed in cars. Parking is scarce in Milano and there aren’t many hotels which offer it. And let me tell you, these were not your everyday Chevy. There was a gorgeous Lamborghini next to a Bentley. And a very odd car which was a two seater with a huge whale tail and air scoops you could put a small child into. It was right hand drive with British plates.

Anyway, I digress. Inside the people were friendly. The restaurant was beautiful. And the service perfect. It was a very good dinner. One of the best I’ve had. Here are pictures of the dining room. The wine we had and the gifts from the chef. Lots of good breads and a good strong olive oil. Bread sticks and crackers. They brought a bowl of broth they were very proud of. The list of what went into it was long and interesting. The actual product tasted a lot like Swanson chicken broth…🙂 Sorry Niko! My antipasto was a raw shrimp dish under shaved citrusy lettuce. The sauce was sublime. Then a sea bass which also was wonderful. Finally I had the marscapone ice cream with sour cherries. Perfect ending. Pictures! (Captions at the bottom)

Interior from our table. Reminded me of a cruise ship.
The broth they seemed so proud of…and the breads
My shrimp…sooooo good.
Veal Milanese…Luther couldn’t resist
My sea bass. I also ordered turnip greens sautéed in olive oil and garlic as a side.
Gelato with sour cherries

Wednesday March 16
Today we had many plans and reservations for tours. We skipped breakfast and headed out for our appointment to see the Duomo. We had ordered an audio tour. Things did not go as planned. We went into the cathedral, which I must say was pretty darned magnificent. The columns supporting the roof and separating the nave were like looking through a forest of giant redwoods. They are each 50 yards tall. Half a football field! We realized we couldn’t get the audio tour inside and each had to go out to get it. The guard would only let one of us go at a time. I went first, managed to get the guide and return but then the *outside* guard didn’t want to let me back in. After a long argument he let me in. Then Luther got his and returned. By that time a funeral had begun and all the interesting parts of the Duomo were closed off. Bad luck. But we used the audio tour the best we could and explored inside and out.

Like a forest
On the way past the Duomo I loved this hopeful sign of spring in front of the glorious cathedral.

Afterward we headed to Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa, a church with an ossuary of hundreds of bones. Interesting to see. 

Then we circled back and tried to visit another church but it was closed. We bought some sandwiches for lunch because we wanted to save ourselves for dinner.

Along the way

At 3:45 we had reservations at Santa Maria delle Grazie to see Michelangelo’s Last Supper. We have all seen prints of the fresco of course, but to see it in person — it was pretty amazing.

On our way back I passed a store with beautiful jewelry. All hand made, one-of-a-kind pieces. I decided to buy a pendant. I love it!

My pendant.

Dinner at a Michelin one star Restaurant – IYO. The only one star Michelin Japanese restaurant in Italy. My choice and we decided to both go for the nine course “let them just feed us” menu. We really aren’t terribly savvy at Japanese food. Except Sushi.

OK, here come the food pictures…they are works of art really. I can remember the taste of every one of them when I look at these. I hope you enjoy looking at them if only for the artistry!

Oysters tempura in a bernaise sauce a bit of cooked celery and a tiny cup of gin.
Squid that was sliced to look like spaghetti twirled in a circle topped by a quail egg yoke topped with fish eggs in a fish sauce broth.
Sushi from scallops sea bass and other fish whose names I didn’t catch.
Tuna on rice with wasabi in a crisp seaweed wrap.
Crispy seaweed wrap topped with raw chopped fish with caramelized sugar underneath.
Stracciatella cheese on raw tuna
Linguini with fish eggs and baby clams. It had a very buttery taste.
An entire hen’s egg rolled in panko and fried. Served in a salty sauce. It came to the table in an enormous egg!
Hen’s egg after I broke it open. Amazing how good an egg can be!
Crispy pork belly.
Japanese BBQ beef (wow). My first time to have Kobe beef.
An airy ball of white — like eating air
Dessert

By this time I was stuffed even though the courses were small. We tried a bottle of Saki which was not much to my liking. It wasn’t very robust in flavor, rather kind of bland. I read that out of the three beverages – beer, wine, saki – it has the highest alcohol content. Odd.

It was an incredibly amazing dinner.  It was great to try new things.

Thursday March 17
I wonder if they celebrate St Pats today 🙂 🍀 It dawned gray and dreary today. A bit chilly. This hotel has an excellent breakfast. About anything you could wish for. We had ours and headed out to see two churches.

First was Chiesa di San Mauricio Al Monastero Maggiore known for its frescoes. It did not disappoint.

Interior
I really liked this one. Click to enlarge and see all the animals…even Unicorns!
Another Last Supper
I just loved this little detail

And next was Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. Rather austere. It was very old dating to Roman times and it was just next to the Roman city that Milan was back then. There are a lot of archeological relics that have been dug up in the area which are now in the Basilica.

We walked back to our hotel so I could change clothes for our lunch. Today, we decided to have lunch instead of dinner. We went to another Japanese place called Wicky’s. Also excellent food. We had two starters which we split – Sashimi and Mare Spicy. Raw seafood but the Spicy had a lot of different spices and herbs. The we split the Angus Spicy, and the Magica which is Sea bass.

Friday March 18
We bought a few things in Milan, it was hard not to! There are amazing amounts of luxury goods on offer every time you turn your head. Little shops that specialize in one or two things. Like the glove and sock shop. Or the sea sponges and back scrubbers shop. Tailors and shoemakers who will make anything to order — just for you. There were the most beautiful linens, sumptuous bedding. I saw a shop that only sold pajamas. For example of the style here…this is an upholstery and bespoke clothing shop. Isn’t this amazing?

When we checked out of our very nice hotel, the very friendly and enthusiastic front desk clerk asked the perennial and every popular “perché Umbertide?!” I cannot tell you how many people have asked us that since we moved here.

We took the Frecciarossa fast train to Florence. It arrived around 15 minutes late. Late enough that we missed our connection. Oh well. There is a train every hour so not terrible.

It was an excellent trip. The weather was not bad, it was just gray and chilly. I don’t think Milano gets alot of sun. We loved our hotel and the location, and we loved the food. The people were all very nice. I don’t think I will go back because there are many more places still to see. But it wouldn’t be because I didn’t enjoy my stay there.

Last weekend we … lunched!

Here it is already Thursday. It’s been a very cold week. It would be nice if we could get some warmer weather. I didn’t write about our lunches out with friends last weekend. There were good things, and bad things but it was great to see friends.

Saturday we went to our nearby Restoro restaurant with friends who own a home here. The last time we were there was in the summer, when we had to fight off the aggressive chickens. This time we were treated to a show by the resident peacock. I prefer Mr. Peacock! I think he was showing off to his own reflection in the door. Gotta defend his territory from all intruders!

Photo credit – Bob Camastro

Our friend kindly brought Luther some cigars which he ordered and had sent to them. They also brought a roll of reed for my basketmaking. Thanks! Lunch was not terribly remarkable. But the company was great. My tagliatelle with bolognese ragu. Good.

On the way home, Bob was driving, they were pulled over for a routine traffic stop. Bob and Debbie are dual Italian/American citizens. This allowed them to buy and register a car. So when the cop sees the Libretto for the car is in his name but he doesn’t have an Italian drivers license, he upbraids him for driving illegally. He says, if you live here more than a year you must have your Italian Patente. We had even discussed this at lunch and I was unsure of how the law applied to them. Anyway, to keep the nice police person happy Luther drove back. Then Bob drove home.

For those who don’t know, if you are a resident of Italy, after one year you are required to get the Italian Patente. Since you cannot buy a car until you are resident, if you own a car this tells the police that you are a resident. There is no way around the rule to change your license to italian. If you are a US citizen there is no reciprocity. Some think they can just keep their International driving permit but that is merely a translation of your US permit so it is not legally a drivers license. The test is notoriously difficult and it is only given in Italian. Many people say it is the most difficult thing they had to do to live here. The page I created on this website explains the whole thing and gives links to the practice tests and to other peoples testimonials. Scroll down to the section on cars and driving.

But wait! There’s more! It turns out that our friends are a special case. They are dual citizens registered in A.I.R.E. (Anagrafe Italiani residenti all’estero). This allows them to buy a car without being residents. If you are not a dual citizen you cannot buy a car in Italy until you have become a resident. So they own a car, but are not residents. If you come here to LIVE full time, you will be a resident. If you are not a resident then you do not need to change your license to an Italian one. The police person didn’t know this. It is an unusual situation. So from now on, Bob and Debbie will carry the Decreto which says they can own the car but are not residents. They can show this to the cops if stopped again. Whew, what a relief!
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For our lunch on Sunday we met Steve. He and his wife bought an apartment in Spello and he is here to get things moving on the renovations they want done before they move here in June. He also was kind enough to bring us things we needed from the US. Cigars for Luther, what else? And vitamins for me. Not that I cant get them here but they are super expensive and sold just 30 pills at a time. I’m used to the mega bottles of hundreds of pills. Anyway, thanks to Steve, we are all set.

We decided to meet in Bevagna. Oddly, Spello, which in all other respects a nice town, has no decent lunch restaurants. Dinner, yes, but not lunch. So, Bevagna it was. The restaurant is Delizie del Borgo Bevagna. I loved this little place situated in a park just outside the walls. I also loved the people. They were all super friendly and nice service. But, sad to say, I didn’t like the food much. To start I chose the insalata di carciofi. Below is a picture. it was very thinly sliced raw artichokes, lightly dressed in oil and maybe vinegar. On a bed of lettuce with grated cheese. At first it was pretty good. Super hard workout for the jaws chewing. Crunchy. After maybe half of it, my mouth completely puckered up inside. It was not pleasant. I love artichokes any way, fried, boiled, raw, but I’ve never had so many raw at once. Cumulatively they are 😳 in the mouth!

The boys got the polpette but it was one, gigantic meatball. I think they liked it OK.

My primo was cappolletti in brodo. Cappolletti means little hats. A small stuffed pasta. It was good, if unremarkable. The best thing the lunch had going for it for me was that it was light. Luther got the steak. It looked not very appetizing, but it did taste good. I forgot what Steve got.

We loved the little cups they served the coffee in. Local ceramicist.

It matters not, we had fun and it was good conversation. I wish Steve all the luck with getting his house into shape. I look forward to visiting Roselyne and Steve once they get settled.
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Now I want to mention how I feel about this horrible war in Europe. Other than the fact that the price of gasoline and diesel in Italy is the equivalent of $10.00 a gallon. That doesn’t matter to me. It is nothing to what the Ukrainians are suffering. My heart is with them. We are watching the news every night on CNN. Horrible. A number of people have asked if we are worried here in Italy. Some of the young Italiani we know are quite scared. I am not really worried per se but I grew up in the Cold War. So this is not as frightening for me. I’m just so sorry that this nuclear sabre rattling has recommenced. I thought the world had dodged this bullet. That said, should Putin decide to use his nuclear arsenal it will be the end of Europa, and the US, too. It is just as easy for him to hit the US as here. I pray somehow we can figure out a way out of this. Maybe the sanctions will prove too much for the Russian people and they will rise up. After all, Putin, who says he is saving the Ukrainians, is actually destroying them. He says they are Russians…so why is he killing his own people?
Andrà tutto bene 🌈 Speriamo di si…😕

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!

Up early today

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.
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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!

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!

Sunday Pranzo in Bevagna

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.

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!

Febbraio

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.
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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.
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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.

Photo credit – tavolaartigusto.it

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.

Photo from Comeviagiare.it

Ristorante UNE

Today we finally got out and did something a little new and different. We really have been keeping close to home and staying very careful. We decided to try a new restaurant which we read about in a “ten best restaurants” list. Seldom is one of the restaurants on these ”best” lists in Umbria. Umbria is not exactly on the beaten track!

The town is up a mountain valley north of Foligno, about 50 minutes from our house. it is called Capodacqua. The town’s outskirts are less than beautiful with a gigantic camp of cabins. Maybe its a recreational area in summer? I will have to research. Once into the town, it is quite pretty.

The restaurant is called UNE, which means water in the Gubbio dialect. It has two set menus, one five courses and one seven courses, for €45 or €60 respectively. We chose the smaller menu. The chef is Giulio Gigli, he is from Umbria and had returned after years cooking all around the world. His aim is to use the ancient, and forgotten foods of Umbria as much as possible in his menus. The building is a refurbished old mill. Pretty inside and out. With lots of spacing between the tables. Of course we had to show our green passes to get in.

Here are the menus.

And now for the food. First we had a gift from the chef. Amazing pecorino blue cheese super light and whipped on top of mushrooms and tomatoes. There was a spoon of lentil puree but it somehow didn’t get in the picture 🙂.

Next was sort of a pancake stuffed with melty cheese and topped with gelatin. really good.

Next was local trout with crispy skin and fried fennel. We were encouraged to fare la scarpetta, literally make the little shoe. But it means to use the wonderful bread to sop up the sauce.

Next was the pasta course. The pasta was made from flour made from ”Roveja”, a small pea, and wheat flour. It made for a very unusual flavor. There were also cooked Roveja peas and it was in a beautiful sauce of Canarra onions (local sweet onions), something called Primo Sale which they said was cheese made from the first, creamy milk and cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale).

Then there was a pork dish. like pulled pork, falling apart, with broccoli and bits of lime and ginger with satay sauce.

Luther chose a really lovely red wine from near mount Etna on Sicily. It looks light but it was very flavorful.

The kitchen at work. Open kitchen.

Finally dessert. Hard to describe. A cookie, yogurt, apple sauce, black sesame paste. Very good.

It was a wonderful lunch. Just what I needed. Great and friendly service. And the price, for what we got, was incredible. It can’t last. All together it was €134 . I asked how often the menu changed and she said every month to six weeks. We will go back!