Category Archives: Foods

What I’m reading…

I am re-reading a book. This will be my third reading. There are only one or two books I have re-read in my life. This one is entitled “The Tuscan Year – life and food in an Italian valley” by Elizabeth Romer. It was written in 1984. It is still in print. I first read it a number of years before we even thought of moving here. I brought my copy along when we moved and re-read it after moving. It was only then that I realized I now live within just a few miles of where this takes place. The book is divided into the months of the year and chronicles the lives of a family of land owners in Tuscany. This farm was just near the border with Umbria. The way of life would have been the same in both regions. They were self sufficient. They grew all they needed, cured their own prosciutto, made their own pecorino cheese, raised wheat and milled it, and made bread in a communal oven, once a week. The life fascinates me.

“The only animal whose death the old Tuscan people really mourned was the ox, the beautiful white beast that drew the plough; they were mourned almost as if they were human because they too need nine months in the womb before they are ready to be born.” from the book.

Photo credit Agricultura.it

The author was an Egyptologist, British, and wanted a place between England and Egypt. She rented a house on the farm of the Cerottis. She made friends with Silvana, the wife and matriarch. By doing so she could sit and observe their way of life. There are recipes at the end of each chapter. For a cook and Italianophile it is a wonderful read.
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The first chapter, January, is all about the dead of winter; the chores that are done in this month – the butchering of the pigs and the making of prosciutti, salami and sausages. It is about how they cooked and were nourished when there was no garden to speak of. These were the bitter months when they didn’t work in the fields. The book says during this time their lives were very like their ancestors. These forbears would have spent the time making and repairing baskets for collection of olives and grapes. They would have made wooden sleds and carts to be drawn by the oxen. The women would have spun woolen cloth and embroidered their trousseaus. They decorated all their linen sheets and nightgowns with lace and embroidery. Nowadays the men repair farm equipment and tools. Silvana knits socks and shawls, using wool from their sheep. The book said she used two intertwined wools, one light, one dark so she could see in the firelight.

As I said there are many recipes in each chapter. This particular passage I loved:
“The Scottiglia is made with a mixture of meats and cooked with the odori, carrot, celery, and onion, then served on a slice of bread that has been toasted and rubbed with garlic. The dish originated in harder times when there was not much meat to be eaten and all the neighbors would crowd into one house for the evening, bringing with them whatever piece of meat they could obtain: a piece of rabbit or prosciutto, some chicken, a little veal or maybe some tripe, very often game of some description. Then the meat would all be cooked up together in the large cauldron and flavored with the usual vegetables and wine. The oldest recipes for this dish specify that absolutely no oil was to be used in the preparation of the stew, maybe because the meat was fattier in those times. While the meat was cooking what is known as the veglia would take place: the people, usually all from a small hamlet…would sit around the fire and give recitations of Dante and verses that the men had made up themselves. These would very often contain veiled references to the girl who had caught their eye, and in this way the cold evenings passed in a pleasant manner.”

Photo credit Arezzonotizie.it

The Scottiglia is served in a bowl with a toasted piece of bread on the bottom, rubbed with garlic. Juice is ladled on the bread and then a helping of meat.
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I think I may include an excerpt now and then, in this journal. This January chapter is so evocative of times gone by and cold, dark winters which we still endure but I am reminded it is nothing like they had to endure back then. Then, death was very near and if you weren’t prepared, you could die.

Sunday Pranzo with la nostra famiglia Italiana

I like to think of Vera, Graziano, Desiree, and Maja as our Italian family. For a long year plus we weren’t able to socialize with them. Vera loves to invite her clients and friends for meals together. We missed this so much. Things are better and we feel relatively safe being vaccinated and boosted so we accepted an invite for Sunday lunch.

Over the years we have met, and made friends with, many other people through Vera at her meals. And did I say she’s a great cook? And adventurous like few Italians are. She loves trying new things, but also traditional ones too. Yesterday, it was clients of Graziano’s who had been invited. They are a British man, Phil, and his wife also named Vera who is Swiss. Graziano wanted other English speakers since they weren’t strong Italian speakers. The couple own a very large house up in the mountains not too far from Vera between Cortona and Mercatale. He had a stroke recently, I can’t imagine how they do the upkeep in the place. And why would just two people want such a huge house? But different strokes as they say.

We arrived at 12:30. Vera likes us to come a little early so we can have a drink and she can show me what she’s cooking. The menu started with a traditional ragu di cinghiale bianco. Wild boar ragu. If it is called bianco or bianca it is made without tomatoes. This one had some cream to finish and was served on pappardelle. Excellent. Then she served two secondi. A whole roast duck with roasted potatoes. She makes great patate arrosto. And the other one was roasted lamb shoulder with prunes and served with saffron rice. I got pictures of everything except the pasta primo. Darn. Anyway, here are the pictures.

Roast duck
Magnificent roasted potatoes
Lamb and saffron rice.

…and lastly, here is the gang. I’m taking the picture. From left, Luther, Vera (cook extraordinaire), Maja peeking out, Graziano, Desiree, Phil, and Swiss Vera.

A buona domenica and excellent lunch with friends. 💕

Seafood

Big project tomorrow. Il Brodetto alla Termolese on the menu for Pranzo. Two friends will join us. you might remember my friend Jen and I had this special fish soup in the town of Termoli in Molise on our trip together (see post about the trip). We have been craving it ever since.

I went out to the big Wednesday market to see if my normal fish truck was there. It was missing last week and, alas, it was missing again today. Probably because of the holidays. So I decided to visit the other fish truck. I don’t know why I don’t normally go to him. Maybe because the lines are always so long. Today, I was out early, even before some of the stands were set up. So there was no line at all. As I looked over the large amount of very fresh seafood, I noticed about 40% of it was still moving. Now, THAT’S what I call fresh! It was really beautiful stuff. He even had oysters. I wanted to buy some, but I didn’t.

I bought all the food for our feast tomorrow. Two whole spigole, which are sea bass in English, shrimp, mussels (cozze), tiny clams (vongole) and the funny crustaceans they have here to make stock…not much meat and a pain to eat but for stock they should work well. I forget their name.

Cozze
Vongole
Shrimp
The mystery crustacean.

The mussels, clams, and the mystery crustaceans are all still alive. I remember once, long ago, I bought mussels at Whole Foods. They are always sold alive so you must let them breath. When I got to the checkout counter, the checker, a young girl, tried to tie the plastic bag, which held the mussels, closed. I told her not to do that since they were still alive and must breath. The shock on her face was priceless! She obviously didn’t know!

Tomorrow, the Brodetto. I will post the finished product after we make it. And hopefully I remember to take pictures before we eat it!

Monday, Monday…

The weather has broken and the cold has abated. Warmer and rain is on the way for Christmas 🙁.
Until the last day, it has been crisp and cold with blue skies. A picture of or Collegiata as I returned home from an errand. I love this church. It is unique.

Sunday, we had, at Luther’s request, hot dogs. We bought them at the market. All beef and larger than my usual frank. To my credit I did roast them over the fire. But what amused me was the package for the buns.

One of the things I’ve noticed here…hot dog buns, hamburger buns are not sliced. You must cut them open yourself. Not a big deal. But also, in Italy they don’t cut pizzas into wedges. People usually get a pie each and then just cut it themselves. I guess Italians are cut averse! Hah!
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Today I made an interesting dish for dinner. I had bought a bunch of chard at the Saturday market. I also had the tops from two turnips. I wanted to use them somehow for our dinner. I decided to sauté it in olive oil and garlic with pepper flakes. Then I added a handful of cooked chickpeas and some crumbled feta. I cooked some tagliatelle and tossed it into the chard mixture with some pasta water. To finish I chopped some toasted almonds. I put them on the pasta with some pecorino Romano cheese. I fried a egg for each plate, which went on the top. It was good.

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Numbers continue to go up here. State of emergency was extended until 31 March. This allows the government to act quickly during the pandemic. I think the government is letting people enjoy the holiday, but afterward there will be big spikes of the disease and things will get more difficult. January and February will probably be peaking (yet again) with the virus.
We are again, sadly, staying home for now. I have to say, it is getting old. I want our world back. I want to travel again. But it looks like I’m going to have to accept the fact that life has changed forever. That all said, we need to live our lives. We just need to decide what are acceptable risks. This is all new to us all. We will figure it out. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.

Christmas open house with friends

Sunday was a cold, clear, crisp day here. My friend Elizabeth Wholly invited us to her house for an open house to ring in the season. Elizabeth is an accomplished cook and an accomplished writer. She is known for her book “Sustenance – Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland”. It highlights many of the artisanal products produced in our river valley and surrounding hills. She also has a blog focusing on Wines of Italy called the Wine Girls. She is a multifaceted and delightful friend.

The group was diverse. Some I knew, some I didn’t. They ranged from Canadians, Americans, UK residents, Danes, and a lone Italian, a neighbor. The table was set with all kinds of beautiful sweets. We were in what Elizabeth refers to as her party room. It is a good description. It is a big, long room filled with a long table that would easily seat fourteen. Flanked by a small sitting area in front of a lovely fireplace and next to that her “summer kitchen”. There are double doors onto a patio perfect for catching the low winter sun. She also had a crackling bonfire in the yard. It was beautiful. I took some pictures of course.

The goody table in the party room. Very festive!
Beautiful fireplace and decorated mantle,
The sun trap patio.
!The loggia, which we didn’t use. It is great in the summertime.
Bonfire
Sun trap patio from outside
Our December sun is setting.

Getting colder…time to go!

Il Mercato della Terra in Umbertide

Today I had a number of errands to do. I could hear that it was extremely windy. It was whistling around the house. It sure didn’t make me feel really good about going out!

My first errand was a test at the hospital but turns out no one told me their hours so that was a bust. I will go back Monday. I proceeded to visit a friends apartment to check that all was well there as it is empty.

Once those two, less than fun, errands were done I visited my friendly Ceramica shop and then the Slow food market, Il Mercato della Terra in Umbertide, or our kilometer zero market. The SlowFood people had a booth set up. I also noticed most of the stands had taken on, as a new, temporary, employee, a handicapped young person. So sweet. I’m not sure nowadays how to say this in a politically correct way. But they looked to be mostly Downs Syndrome young people who did seem to be enjoying this new and stimulating activity. I was happy to see it.

I decided to buy a bag from the SlowFood booth. Here is a picture. It included four products which are considered rare since they are produced in small quantities with much manual work in the process.

It says “Save the biodiversity. Save the planet”

It included many interesting things to include my favorite legumes. One, Fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno. The other Roveja di Civita di Cascia. Both of these come from Umbria and the nearby Marche. Both are ancient beans. They also gave me recipes to try.

The Fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno is a very local product grown near the big lake in Umbria. It is unknown outside of the area. Once it was widespread around the lake but the cultivation and harvest is long, tiring and still entirely manual — from sowing to harvesting to threshing. The maturation is gradual. The beans must be harvested every day for a couple of weeks. The plants are brought to the farmyard and dried, then beaten. Afterwards, using sieves, the beans are separated. It is a bean with an oval and tiny shape and can be of various colors: from cream to black through salmon and all shades of brown, even mottled. When they are cooked, they are tender, buttery and reminiscent of black-eyed peas.

The Roveja is also very difficult to cultivate and harvest. It grows at high altitudes in the Sibillini Mountains. To harvest them, you have to work bent down and it takes a long time. This has discouraged the cultivation of roveja and has helped to ensure that almost no one today knows this small pea.

The next item, Grano Saraceno Decorticato, is translated as buckwheat. I looked up the producer. The Tamorri Vera farm is located in the Chiavano plateau which is 1000 meters above sea level, in Valnerina, on the border between Umbria and Lazio. It is family-run and in its third generation. The farm covers about 65 hectares where it grows its own cereals and legumes, in addition to fodder for cattle and sheep. The production of the products is organic and is part of the Slowfood Presidium of the buckwheat of Valnerina. I tried this out last night. I will show the result below.

The next item is also new to me. It is produced at Macelleria dell’Allevatore in Trestina, a town very nearby. It is a cured sausage. The word fegato means liver. So I assume it will be a liver sausage. I will have to report back. I do like most liver, Luther does not, so we will have a taste test!

I also picked up some fresh produce. As usual, I’m planning a hearty soup. I found turnips! Not a usual product.

My side dish for dinner last night was made from the buckwheat. I cooked half a cup in a cup of water for 20 minutes. It absorbed the water and got a lot bigger. I steamed some broccoli until crisp tender. Next I smashed and peeled a garlic clove and put it in olive oil until browned. Then discarded it. I sautéed mushrooms in the oil, then added the broccoli and last the buckwheat. To serve I sprinkled it with grated pecorino cheese. It was quite good. The grain has a distinctive flavor which I remember from Normandy France where it is a very popular product. It also is gluten free for those folks who don’t eat it.

This is a different Christmas than last year, which was a very sad and lonely Christmas. Everyone seems to be happy we are free to gather and do some of the traditional activities common to the season. Of course caution is advised so we all wear the masks and we do much outside. I see there will be many concerti and choral groups in the churches and museums around here. Ho Ho Ho!

Before and after the storm

Saturday morning. It was sunny and no fog. Always a good start. But it is chilly. And windy. We are headed to our first freeze on Monday. During the night the wind had come up and it was rattling the shutters, which I had to partially close to stop the banging. When I looked out our big picture window I saw, across the horizon to our north, a large cloud bank. I thought nothing of it. I looked out at the piazza to check the mercato. Half of the vendors didn’t have their tents erected because of the strong winds.

I did some chores and returned some time later … the cloud bank had crept closer. I checked the weather report. Sure enough, Città di Castello was getting a storm. In a short time the cloud was looming ominously. I took a picture. Such blue sky ahead of the storm.

Suddenly, the rain came lashing down. I could hear it pounding on the high, terra cotta ceiling in the living room. I worried about the vendors. But they had figured it out and had gotten their tents up in time! The rains lasted only a short, but violent, time.

I was cooking a pot of black beans on the stove but as soon as they were done I headed out to the market with my big camera to shoot some photos. I also visited the stalls and purchased some nice produce. I dropped in on Books for Dogs. They weren’t busy so I chatted for a bit. Next I visited CeramicArte, the Deruta ceramics shop here in town. Laura Tomassini is the proprietor and incredible artist. I had purchased a small luminary which I wanted to pick up, and I also wanted to take some pictures of her beautiful works for sale. I plan a blog in the next day or two about Laura and her shop. Here is a picture of my luminary. A candle goes inside.

So without further ado…enjoy the photos. First, the clearing after the storm…

Just some of the veggies in the market.

The extremely huge green vegetable below is not a big celery, although it looks somewhat like it. It is called gobbo in Italian and cardoon in English. I made it once but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

I took a little stroll and noticed the oak tree in the parking lot was loaded with acorns. Too bad there are no squirrels to eat them. These oaks do not lose their leaves in the winter, unlike the ones I am used to on the US east coast.

Our new path behind our house and down to the river is finally finished. New cobblestones and lighting the whole way. It WAS awfully dark back there. So nice!

I went to the Egyptian vegetable stand for avocados. They have consistently the best. I am making chilli and wanted them to go with it. I stopped into Angelo’s Alimentari downstairs from our casa as my final stop to grab some cans of tomatoes, they are also for the chilli. I love a good chilli on a cold night. I told Angelo about it. He and I like to exchange recipes. Like all Italians, he loves to cook, eat, and talk about food. And he speaks no English…so I get to practice my Italian 🙂

Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 was a far cry from Thanksgiving 2020. Then, we were headed into a long, strict lockdown. No gatherings were allowed. So it was especially joyful today, to spend a day with friends having a scrumptious pranzo, and giving thanks. Calagrana had sent out a Thanksgiving menu invitation for Pranzo today. Susan and Gary decided to host a table of nine, of which we were two. There were six Americans and three Italians. A nice mix of the two languages.

In the restaurant there were several other tables. A table of seven Americans who we didn’t know next to us. A table of six, four which were friends. Two Americans and two British. Then another table of four which we knew, some Americans and some British. And finally a table of two British who we didn’t know. On the way out I wished the table of seven next to us happy Thanksgiving. They were visiting here and had rented a villa. There were the matriarch and four daughters and two spouses. They were from Portland Oregon, Sacramento and New Jersey. I think they said they were here for a couple months until January. Our meal started with appetizers, four types, an egg roll with dates inside, cheese, sausage rolls, and fried shrimp. Then we had spiced pumpkin soup. Yummy.

Then the main course. Of course Turkey! And a whopper, a 38.4 pound Tom turkey. Here, there are female turkeys which weigh minimum 15 pounds. And male turkeys which start at about 33 pounds.

Sides and sauces. A really good cold green bean salad in a slightly vinegary sauce and toasted sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Cranberry sauce is not possible here so we had a sauce of sweeter berries. Brussels sprouts.

Dessert was a apple plum tart. Everything was scrumptious. The company was fun and warm and it was such a pleasure to be, once again, sharing a holiday with friends. Two years is a long time to be bereft of friends and family. Speaking of which, I called my sister when I got home. I miss being with her a lot. Especially on holidays like this one. FaceTime is nice but not quite the same 🥺.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Colatura di Alici

Tonight I made Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici. Mainly because I was pressed for time to produce a dinner. It is fast, easy, and very delicious.

Colatura di Alici is translated as “anchovy drippings”. It is a sauce or condiment, made from anchovies. Don’t let that scare you away!! It is Umami to the max! Friends told me they stayed in the little town where it is made, Cetara, in Campana, a small fishing village on the Amalfi coast. The fish are harvested just off the coast. They are only harvested between March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation and July 22, the Feast of Mary Magdalene. This is typical of the traditions here where dates and moon phases still tell people when they can plant or harvest. The sauce is a transparent, amber colored liquid, produced by fermenting anchovies in brine. Here’s mine.

I did some research and found that something similar was produced in Ancient Rome. The recipe was recovered by monks in medieval times. They made Colatura di Alici in a primitive manner letting the brined fish drip through from wooden barrels. Now wool sheets are used to filter the brine.

My Spaghetti con la Colatura di Alici. It has just five ingredients in the sauce plus spaghetti, and lemon zest and parsley to serve. Comfort food, Italian style!

Yummy lunch

If you are like my husband, you would NOT like what I made for myself for lunch today. I thought it was perfect and very yummy. At the Saturday local market, I spied beets! We don’t see them all that often here and I love them roasted. The proprietor of the veggie stand seemed very pleased that I was excited to buy his beets. I explained that I loved them, but that mio marito (my husband) doesn’t like them. I bought three, and roasted them today with salt, pepper and good olive oil. I diced them and added them to a salad of some maiche, left over Gorgonzola and toasted pecans, tossed in a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper it was a devine lunch for me!

Ciao, ciao, ciao!