Category Archives: Italian life

Carciofi in Umido

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

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

The culinary traditions are also strong for the Easter Feast. The Primi, or pasta course is always the celebratory dish, Lasagna. Roasted lamb is always the Secondi. Artichokes, in abundance at this time, were prepared multiple ways as part of the antipasto. I decided to try to make the Carciofi in Umido, stewed artichokes. Lets hope this one has better results than my disastrous frittata in March. 😂
~~~~~~

Recipe – Carciofi in Umido
Four Roman artichokes
50 gr butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced parsley
salt and pepper

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

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

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

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

Morning at the Mercato

A lot of people who retire complain that they can’t keep track of what day it is. Here in Umbertide that is never a problem. Our two weekly markets bracket our week nicely, and give us anchor points on Wednesday and Saturday. The town is very quiet on Monday and Tuesday, but gets more lively from Wednesday onward. Today, being the big, main market, I decided to go out and do a little hunting and gathering. Exiting my front door I am steps from Bar Mary and the Mercato.

Bar Mary is always busy on Wednesday. People meet friends to catch up.

There are almost always these musicians playing. They always bring their dog. Today it was some blues and then traditional tunes. They are good, so I always contribute a euro or two.

Here are a few pictures of the produce where I bought my items. The young man is from Cannara, famous for its onions. He used to just have onions and some dried legumes. Now and then he would have another crop. Suddenly, he has everything.

Here are a few of the spring veggies growing around this area now. I’ll put captions under the photos.

This is agretti. Also called Monks beard. Grows abundantly in central Italy and is a delicacy.
These radishes are the sweetest I ever had. Sometimes they can be hot. These are not.
Local carciofi are just coming in season.

I was so disappointed. When I got to this stand there was a bucket with a few handfuls of asparagus. I wanted some and this was the only place I had seen it. There were three ladies ahead of me. The first one bought around 8 spears. Still plenty left. The next one bought half of what was left. But what was still there was enough for me. So, one more lady. She got carrots, onions, lettuce, and was just about to pay, when she took the rest of the asparagi!! 😱 Sigh. Oh well. It is early in its season. I will go out earlier on Saturday. Anyway, I bought two bunches of radishes, four artichokes and some arugula.

Tis the season for planting gardens.

Onion sets
Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc. etc.

There are always two or three really big stands. They bring much of what they sell from down south, Sicily, Calabria. Sort of like Florida and California produce in winter what people north cannot yet grow. So we are seeing strawberries here now, but not local. Artichokes are here all winter from the south. Apples and oranges are just about done for the season. These stands sell things really cheap. Here are a couple examples.

One Euro fifty for 2.2 pounds
Ten artichokes for €5.00

I strolled back and took these final two pictures. One of the wall and all the plants that manage to dig roots between the stones. And of the old church tower with the four bells that ring for Mass, but also the hours of the day.

Next on my to-do list is buy the plants for my terrace. While we are still trying to sell our apartment I am still going to plant my flowers on the terrace. who knows how long things (like closing and us finding a new place) would take — and that is IF we sell it! Things move veeerrrryyy slowly here. Italian time…piano, piano.

Buona serata a tutti!

Officially declaring spring is here!

Yesterday, we dumped the last bag of pellets we had bought this winter into our stufa. We declared it officially Spring! We went through around 80 sacks this year at €5.50 each. We know the amount because this year we had most of them delivered and hired people to carry them up to our apartment. The pellet stove keeps our living and dining room nice and warm all winter… and it saves on gas.

I bet most people don’t know that the Italian government regulates when you can start and must end using your heat. Umbria is in Zone E. This zone is second to the longest allowed time (meaning we are second to the coldest region). We are allowed to have the heat on 14 hours a day from October 15 to April 15. They also regulate the temperature. The warmest you can set the thermostat is 20C or 68F. This explains why such a large proportion of the population use wood or pellets as a supplemental (or primary) way to heat.

Just this week Italy announced that this year they will also regulate, and limit, the use of air conditioning, but only in businesses and schools. Italy imports 95% of its gas, and 40% of that comes from Russia. Italy says we will stop importing any gas from Russia within 18 months. Applause! We have two air conditioning units but very rarely use them. Perhaps on the hottest days of August we use it for around three or four hours in the living room since it gets the full afternoon and evening sun. Otherwise, it cools off very quickly in the evening so the windows are open to the night breezes.

We took a nice drive over the weekend. Down through the mountains. I got this castle photo in the town where we ate lunch, Capodacqua.

Yesterday was Liberation day, a big holiday here. 25 Aprile 1945, the end of WWII for the Italians. It’s complicated! In Umbertide is is even more complicated because the very same day but one year earlier in 1944, the Allies dropped 2 bombs on Umbertide while trying to destroy the Tiber river bridge. Seventy-eight citizens were killed and an entire block of houses destroyed and never rebuilt. So it is a bittersweet day here. Anyway, all over Italy one hears the Bella Ciao! song. Here is a still of of our marching band and all the citizens entering the Piazza. Photo borrowed from a video my neighbor Christie got.

Bella Ciao! By a local group – Nuova Brigata Pretolana. A rousing rendition!

https://fb.watch/cDwDrvf2wU/

Long term Permesso – the saga continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castiglion Fiorentina

We decided to take a little drive today to explore just over the mountains from here in Tuscany. The town is Castiglion Fiorentina, a town if 17,000 just south of Arezzo. It is about the size town we like and it is on the main rail line. Arezzo is a beautiful, and pretty large city, which is definitely off the beaten track and well worth a visit. They have a famous antiques market held the first weekend of every month.

We had the bad luck to arrive right in the middle of an enormous motorcycle rally and off-road competition. The town is a hill town but somehow they managed to accomodate hundreds of large campers and trailers, caravans and motorcycles in its parking lots up near the old town. We managed to wend our way through all the ruckus and come out the other side. We visited the more modern lower town and explored the railway area. I was not terribly enamored. We are scoping out places we may want to move someday.

When we returned home I did a little research. I had taken this picture of a statue in a traffic circle. Now I understand the motorcycle event. Fabrizio Meoni was a famous motorcycle racer who came from this town. He died in a crash in 2005.

It was time for Pranzo. We decided to have lunch in Enoteca Meucci. An enoteca and restaurant in the small town just beneath Cortona. The restaurant is just one year old. The enotecca has tastings and tours and has been open 2 years. I liked it. I didn’t love it. But I will go back if I am in the neighborhood. Pictures…

Buona domenica!

Upcoming trip, Permesso di soggiorno lungo periodo

We are having beautiful weather. Yesterday, Luther and I went for a walk. It was the first day of warmish weather after a long cold spell. It seemed like everyone in town was out for the evening passeggiata. We chose the river walk. The Tiber river and Umbertide, behind its walls.

Today, we finally turned in our paperwork for the Permesso di soggiorno UE per soggiornanti di lungo periodo – elective residence…second try. We will see if we’re missing anything this time. Last time 2 of our documents were expired. Our Questura appointments are April 14. Once, in the past this first appointment was six months out. That meant it took almost a year to get our new Permessi from application to receiving the card. By then we had to start the renewal process for the next one! We are glad that was a one time thing. We have no idea why. 75 pages of documentation…And €176 each in stamps and fees…EACH.

UPCOMING TRIP REPORT!!
Tomorrow we are going on our first trip since last summer. Long time. Short time and distance. We will take the train to Milano for three nights and explore the city.

Ciao for now!

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!

Umbria – the Green 💚 of Italy

My beloved region is known as ”The Green Heart of Italy”. It is right in the center of Italy, hence, the *heart*. It is slightly heart shaped. And it is GREEN. Spring is pretty much here, although it is still cold at night. This weekend we will see some of the coldest temperatures yet, but it will shortly pass, and our spring will suddently burst out all over.

Winter wheat is a main crop in Umbria. And just now, it is coming up in so many of the fields – So amazingly green! Umbria is living up to its name. I got a couple of snaps off to show you how beautiful it is. These taken along one of my favorite roads. We always take this road when we return from visiting our favorite butcher. Take a gander at these!

In June these will be rippling fields of yellow grain. Living near to the agrarian society of Umbria makes one notice the seasons as they change; the crops, the seasonal produce, the phases of the moon by which they all still plant, the winter and summer truffles that they hunt, the favorite pass-time of foraging for insalata di campo (salads from the fields), the foraging for wild asparagus (should be starting soon), the game in the fall and in winter (cinghiale – wild boar), the prized delicacy of the porcini mushrooms in autumn, the splendid bounty of summer, the sunflowers in July, the tobacco in the fall…i love it all. I love that it still exists here in Umbria – Italy’s green heart 💚

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.
~~~~~~
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!

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!