Category Archives: Foods

Tis the season for Panzanella! 🍅

High summer is time for our favorite salad — Panzanella! This salad is ONLY made with fresh, farm stand tomatoes so it is best in July and August. For us, we get them from my favorite stand in the Saturday mercato. For some reason, his tomatoes taste like summer itself. Brilliant red and juicy. Just like I remember the “home grown” tomatoes of my childhood.

Tuscany tries to take the credit for this salad but many regions of Italy, and the Mediterranean, make a similar salad and have been doing so since tomatoes were introduced from the New World in the 1500s. It was not only delicious, it was a way to use up stale bread so it wouldn’t go to waste. Even before the tomato was introduced a form of this salad with whatever fresh summer vegetables were available was common. The main unifying ingredient for all these salads is the stale bread.

I initially wanted my Panzanella to be the classic recipe so I went looking at the many recipes online. As with most things I make, I used bits of a couple different recipes. The best thing I found was a method to salt and encourage the cut up tomatoes to give up some of their juice to use in the vinegarette. I’m not sure why since either way the juice gets into the salad but somehow it enhanced the tomato flavor to whisk the juice with the oil and vinegar. Essence of tomato! Otherwise I decided to toast the stale-ish bread for better texture and soaking ability. I also added a seeded cucumber for a bit of crunch. This isn’t in the classic recipe. But, really, if you’ve got fresh flavorful tomatoes and a good, fairly dense bread then it’s Panzanella to me!!

Panzanella Salad – 4-6 servings

  • 2 1/2 pounds (1.1kg) summer tomatoes – can be mix of regular, Roma, grape or cherry and heirloom
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) kosher salt, plus more for seasoning – only use kosher or check for saltiness
  • 6 cups (340g) firm bread, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil
    1 very small, mild onion, or 1/2 of one minced
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (not in classic recipe – optional)
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar – I used sherry vinegar because if find it slightly milder. But you can use white or red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small cucumber seeded and chopped (optional, not classic)
  • 1/2 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Toast the bread cubes at about 300F for 15 minutes. Set aside. Chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces and put in colander over a bowl to catch the juice. Salt with 2t kosher salt and toss. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Mince onion and garlic. Whisk tomato juice from tomatoes and vinegar. Add garlic, mustard and onion. Whisk. Add oil in a stream whisking. Alternatively you can put the juice, onion, garlic, vinegar, mustard and oil into a jar and shake vigorously to emulsify.

Toss tomatoes, cucumber and bread with the vinegarette. Let sit at least 30 minutes. Add chopped basil leaves and serve.

Green Pass

This has been a very productive week so far. The first good thing was we both managed to download our Green Passes onto our IPhones and now we should be able to show them if needed to prove we have both been vaccinated. Here is what it looks like. I blurred the QR code and personal information.

Among other things, we also managed to pick up our new Permessi di Soggiorno. As I posted earlier, it was the fastest we have ever gotten them and mine is actually good for eleven months! Amazing.

The other things I mentioned…We got our Italian taxes filed. We visited the Poste Italiene to pay a bill for a friend. Yesterday we got our hairs cut. Did you ever notice only English uses the word “hair” for plural. The word hair can mean a single hair, or all your hair. Not so in Italian, French and German. Those are the only other languages I know. So I’ve taken to saying, I am going to get my hairs cut. 😁

A special thing you can get only at this time of year is friggatelli (pronounced frig with a soft G like George) Little green peppers. They are prepared by frying in olive oil for a couple of minutes then adding minced garlic for a few seconds. Then you add a bit of water and close the pan to let the peppers steam for about ten minutes. You can eat the whole thing to include the seeds. A nice side dish with steak or chicken. I love them and eat them a lot while they are in season..

I’m not sure anyone wants to know the end of the pigeon story. But quickly I will say it wasn’t a happy ending and actually at this time, a full week and a half after the window got shut, there remain live pigeons inside. They will die eventually. I wish it would be soon. A man did come with the cherry picker truck on Monday and opened the window and retrieved 3 dead pigeons from near the window. The live pigeons, naturally wouldn’t try to fly out while he was in the window. So he closed it back up and left. I am glad that window is nailed shut now and I don’t have to go through this again. And neither do the pigeons. There are plenty pigeons left and they will find other nesting places.
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Tonight I made a seared steak that was marinated in mango purée with habanero pepper and lime juice. I made a salsa of seared tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. I served with corn tortillas and sliced avocado. Most of the more “exotic” ingredients (mango, cilantro, avocado) I got from the “Egyptian” fruttivendolo. Truth be told only the cilantro must be bought there. The regular Coop carries avocado and mango. But almost nobody carries coriandolo…cilantro. I also think his avocado is way better than any other source. Every now and then I must break away from Italian food…I love it..but my taste buds need a boost now and then! 😎

ciao for now!

2nd vaccination!

Finally, after a very long wait we got our second vaccination. AstraZenica works better with the second shot around 3 months later. So now we just wait two weeks and we can feel moderately protected. We have a paper copy of proof of vaccine, but with that we can get the EU Green Pass. Some countries (France) are now requiring the Green Pass to be able to go to a restaurant. I’m not sure how the CDC proof of vaccine will work for this. I would hope if one can get into Italy with it, one could dine in a restaurant. But that hasn’t been decided yet. And I did hear Italy will be implementing this.

The Delta variant is very prevalent in Italy. I read today the cases are really jumping here in Italy. 26% higher here in Umbria from last week, but 90% more in Lazio, 60% more in Tuscany, Lombardia and Liguria are soaring too. In the space of a week. Almost all cases are unvaccinated younger to middle age people. I knew this would happen with all this partying, no spacing, no masks. Sadly, all our hard work is going down the toilet.
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On a more cheerful note…a long time wish to make Ceviche tonight came true. A couple weeks ago I got two nice sea bass, sushi grade, from my friends at Calagrana. Tonight I made Ceviche. It was refreshing, cool, and totally yum.

Ciao for now!

L’estate ☀️

We have been having our typical summer weather. Hot but not oppressively so, not humid, cloudless skies, no rain. I’m really enjoying it.

Today was Saturday so our local market was in the piazza. All the summer veggies are here in abundance. Love it! I have been really into salads and things that don’t need a lot of cooking to keep the kitchen cool so I’ve got a picture of one of my salads below.

I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures at the market. Most of them came from one of my favorite stands called 3 Orti or 3 vegetable gardens, over by Montone. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

The first melanzane, eggplants…
The summer tomatoes are incredible as always.
Friggitelli – I love these fried!
The first borlotti beans!
German style bread – lots of seeds!

Luther’s birthday was this week so we went to dinner at Calagrana. To make your mouth water take a look at this, my appetizer, vitello tonno.

I also did some cooking with the rest of my fresh tuna. A salad with seared tuna. A la a Niçoise.

Some summertime pictures from our walk along the river to get pizza from a new pizzeria we wanted to try.

We also had a lovely lunch with two people who subscribe to my blog. He has the distinction to be the only person to have read the entire thing…TWICE! I should have some kind of award for him! We have corresponded and we met them today. They are on a house hunting trip. Always fun!

Tomorrow, Sunday, is the BIG GAME. Italy vs England for the European Championship. It will be chaos in all of Italy, to include… Every. Bar. In. Every. Town. They will all have big screen TVs set up in the squares. Madness. Forza Italia. Azzurri!
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Enjoy the summer…or if not in the northern hemisphere, enjoy my summer vicariously through my pictures!

Winery visit — La Palerna

Today my friend Elizabeth Wholey arranged a wine tasting and lunch for us. It was a pretty day and we took off north — way north. To the very top of Umbria. It meets up with Tuscany and to the east Le Marche. Three regions. This winery is not in a wine region. It is in an unlikely location. And they are focusing on the Pinot Noir — Pinot Nero — wine grape. Also an unlikely choice. The winery is called La Palerna. It is at an altitude of 650 meters. High above the upper Tiber valley. Owned by Luigi Merendelli and his wife Paola. They own a large packaging company called Vimer. Here is the view from the winery.

We were greeted by Rosanna. She has worked for the Vimer industries and the family in different capacities for a long time. She is Swedish born but was raised in Luxembourg. She married and moved to the Upper Tiber Valley with her husband who is from here. Now she is in charge of sales and marketing of the Palerna winery.

We toured the property with the permission of Paola to include their beautiful grounds.

Rosanna took us around the property. We saw some of the vines and also the orto, or vegetable garden.

Orto, well fenced in to protect from the animals
Sangiovese leaf.
Pinot Noir leaf
Vine, Pinot Noir, has red stems
Sangiovese has green stems. See the baby grapes?

Next we toured inside the winery. These are the methode champenoise bottles. They are turned a quarter turn every week and slightly tipped higher. It encourages the sediment to slide into the neck where it can be popped out before corking.

Rosanna provided us with a lovely antipasti to complement the wines we tasted. They are very proud of their Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. Nudo di Palerna. 100% Pinot Noir.

She sources her food locally. We had a big platter of toasted bread drizzled with their oil.

We had the Mozzarella di Bufala from la Fattoria Montelupo. I buy mozarella often. I am a huge fan of the cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo. It is famed from down south in Campania. I’ve had it a number of times and am always blown away by the rich creaminess. It is NOTHING like common mozzarella. Well, I am here to tell you this is the real deal. Made from the milk of water buffaloes just north of us. The fat in both the olive oil and the cheese is cut by the sparkling wine which is why it’s paired. A marriage not to be beat!

Next we tried their Rosatto. Or Rose to us. Made from Pinot Noir and Sangiovese grapes.

She paired this one with meats. Salami and cured ham or proscuitto. Also from a local producer – Azienda Agricola Pigolotti. Along with a plate of bruschetta with pomodori…tomatoes.

Next we had. This was an everyday quaffing wine. Only €8.00. This is a normal price for decent but not fancy wine. We had this one with two local cheeses. Both pecorino.

Then, the prized Pinot Nero. This is not a normal grape here. We have only seen it at one other place near Orvieto. Sr. Merendelli fell in love with the French Pinot Noir and decided to dedicate much of his vineyard to this grape.

And finally Cospaia1441. It is made from Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is nice with a lot of fruit and boldness. But the best part is where it got it’s name. It seems the border between Tuscany and the Papal State of Umbria was not fixed. There was constant fighting. So, finally, in 1441 the two agreed the small river running from the Marche down to the Tiber river would be the border. The north would be owned by Tuscany and the south would remain a Papal state. Due to a technical error, they seemed to not mention an island in the river. So it was neither Tuscany, nor Umbria, but a free and independent republic for almost 400 years! The label has a floating island on it held up by balloons. The motto of the land was “perpetua et firma libertas” — “firm and perpetual liberty”.

Here are Rosanna and my friend Elizabeth.

An excellent excursion. Other than a bit of haze it was a beautiful day. Let it be the first of many more!

Information of little import…

I say “information of little import..” but actually, if anyone comes to Italy to live, or even to rent an apartment and stay awhile, it could be useful. Just another quirk of Italian packaging.

As in most places, you can buy already made hamburger patties in the store here. I don’t usually because I prefer to make my own. But our favorite butcher, Etrusco, has the best beef and the burgers are juicy not dry, so I do buy some when I’m there. Luther is a real burger hound! They come individually wrapped in a packaged like this…

Looks good right? (Sorry to my vegetarian friends!) comes out of the package ready to slap on the grill. Not so fast. When we first moved here I learned this lesson. Watch and learn.

As you can see, there’s an invisible plastic sheet. Now, I can understand when you buy four patties in a stack you don’t want them to stick together so you’d do this. But this one is in an INDIVIDUAL plastic pack. There is NO NEED for plastic, and on BOTH sides! I learned my lesson by melting the plastic into the patty the first time. Live and learn! 😅😅
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Enjoy your week, and be sure to — “rimuovere la plastica prima della cottura!“ 😁

What a haul!

Today we finally made our trip to the Asian market in Perugia. There are a couple of markets there. One we had known of, but the one we went to today was new to us.

It is near the train station which tends to have a lot of immigrants and ethnic places to serve them. As you can see…it has a very catchy name — “ASIA MARKET”. I have to say, I hate the traffic in Perugia… a maniac designed their roads.

So, anyway, we found it fairly easily. It is, as advertised, cleaner than the other market, and the people are friendlier. I was disappointed in the selection, however. In the fresh produce there was no okra or sugar snap peas, nor was there any cilantro. I did get bok choy. I guess that’s something. I found most of the other stuff I wanted, even though the selection was smaller. I got fish sauce, oyster sauce, wide rice noodles, Korean BBQ sauce (trying for the first time), sesame oil, rice vinegar, sweet piquante sauce for sticky chicken. Lots of coconut milk and evaporated milk. Even some kimchi, which I love! Here is a picture!

I see Thai and Korean in my future.
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Its funny. I read the Facebook groups for people who live in Italy (from other countries). There also tend to be a lot of wannabes as well who still live in their native country. Someone posted a question about where to find Jalapeños in Italy. Fresh in the store, canned, or even plants. There were plenty of helpful answers as usual. But also there were the idiots who insist they know best and if you come to Italy to live you should “embrace the culture 🎶“ and only eat Italian food. Well, that’s fine and all, I love Italian food and I generally let the Italians cook it for me when I go out. But there is the inevitable pull of “Home”. The foods you grew up with. Comfort foods. If that happens to be spaghetti and meatballs, so be it. It’s not an Italian dish, it’s an Italian-American dish but if you miss it, you miss it. Same for ethnic foods, plentiful and embraced in the US, but seldom seen here. So – we cook the spicy stuff…and the different flavors. It surely doesn’t mean we don’t love Italian food!
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Along our drive to the store we passed a Vaccination center…it was teeming with people waiting for shots. What a great thing to see! Italy is finally making real progress.
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Italiano phrase for today, “loro erano molto amici” — in English “they were very close friends”. Pronounced, lore-oh err-ah-noh mole-toe am-ee-chi.
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Ciao, i miei amici! 🌈

Umbrian Pecorino Cheese

So, I got that wrong. As of Monday, we can travel to any yellow region. Doesn’t have to abut. The only orange regions (off limits) are Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, and Val d’Osta. And poor old Sardinia. What did they do wrong? They were the only region to be Bianca, just a few weeks ago. Now, they are the only Red Zone. It’s just hard to understand how this virus works.

I was out at the market this morning. Beautiful sunshine. Everyone is in a jubilant mood anticipating next week. I ran into many friends. Everyone is looking forward to aperitivo on the Piazza next week. Let’s hope for nice weather. 🤞 Also, we will be going out to lunch on Thursday and Sunday, next. Indescribably excited.
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Pecorino DOP
I was talking to an American friend who lives in the US recently. She talked about making something in which I had used Pecorino cheese. She said she would get a different type of cheese for her version.. This made me remember that Pecorino in the US is generally one type of cheese….Pecorino. That is definitely not the case in Umbria.

Today, I bought a few of the different types of pecorino cheese to showcase here in the blog. Umbria is known for Pecorino, and pretty much ONLY Pecorino. It is ewe’s milk cheese and is slightly sour. But this gives it a bit of depth in comparison to cows milk cheeses. It is also made in uncountable ways. What we lack in variety in the type of cheese, we gain in the many ways the cheeses are made, flavored and aged. I decided today to just concentrate on the non-flavored cheeses. But there are truffled varieties, varieties aged in hay, in ashes, with pepper, etc. Next time I’ll talk about those.

Pecorino is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses, and over the centuries there have been very few changes in the way it is made. Over the course of 2000 years, cheesemaking traditions and techniques have been handed down orally.

The methods used to curdle the milk, break the curd, press, drain, scald and salt the cheese vary, depending on the type of Pecorino being produced. The best Pecorino is made between May and June, using the milk from sheep grazing on spring pastures. Pecorino can be either mild or aged. The mild variety should be consumed shortly after it is made, while the second is aged in a cool, fresh cellar with low ventilation, so that it matures fully.

Pecorino fresco is good in salads, and is perfect with a toasted Umbrian bread topped with extra virgin olive oil. The aged and semi aged cheese also pair well with Umbrian cured meats, and they go well with honey, and of course, with Umbrian wines.

Here are the few types I bought. They go from Pecorino Fresca (fresh), to semi stagionato (semi soft), semi-dura (aged and hard), and dura (aged longer and it is very hard). I think the cheese monger thought I was nuts although I did explain to her I was writing a blog about Pecorino. She was happy to sell it to me. And now we have tons of cheese to eat! 😐

Fresca. You can see the liquid it releases. It’s good in salads and with toasted bruschetta.
Semistagionato. Good eating cheese, firm and soft.
Semi-dura. Semi hard. Aged 8 months
Dura and aged 18 months.
Aged 2 years. Good for eating and grating.

Italiano phrase, “Dopo pranzo è tempo di fare un pisolino” In English, “After lunch it’s time for a nap”. Dope-oh prahn-zo A tem-po dee fah-ray un piss-oh-lean-oh. I like the word pisolino 🙂
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Stay safe all! 🌈