Archive | August, 2016

A Familiar Italian Gathering

31 Aug

Can we have too much of a good thing? Need you ask?

Last night, we held a long-planned “reunion” with the group who built the wood sheds last spring.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com (May ’16)

Loreno, a master griller, wanted to cook for us again and we were more than happy to accept.

Stormy weather couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm; we just made a slight adjustment and moved the tables inside at Fernanda’s house.

The apperitivi, created by Fernanda and Bruna, were delicious: an assortment of crostini including tuna, smoked salmon, sausage, mushroom, and chicken liver; prosciutto and melon; homemade pizza.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

In the meantime, while we were enjoying aperitivo, Loreno was working his magic outside. Fortunately, he had the grill undercover as the rain was relentless at times.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

As each plate was brought inside, a wonderful aroma filled the room. While I can give you the basic marinade for all of the meats: olive oil, lemon, rosemary, and salt, I can’t pass on Loreno’s patience and passion for grilling. After all, he built his own grill from steel.

First the chicken:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Followed by boneless pork chops and sausages:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Followed by steak:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Then the salad and tomatoes picked from the garden.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

When Loreno finally joined us, he entered the room to a well-deserved standing ovation.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

When I asked if he had had anything to eat, he assured me that he is the primary tester/taster of all things on the grill. So I just filled his glass.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Loreno sat next to Len and me, and we chatted non-stop for over an hour. He speaks not a word of English, yet we talked about life, the challenges and joys it can bring, and so much more. His family, many of whom were at the table, and Fernanda’s, are not actually related through blood, but there are no stronger ties. And now they too have wrapped their arms around us.

©Blogginginitaly.com Carlo and Cousin Giuliano

©Blogginginitaly.com Carlo and Cousin Giuliano

When I think about these gatherings, I am always reminded of how happy I am that my grandparents came from Italy. The love and friendship that I experience here is amazing, yet not surprising. Len and I are both fortunate to have grown up with similar Italian traditions: big family gatherings, always too much food, lots of stories and laughter, everyone talking and listening at the same time, and always room for guests, who just like here, often became extended family members. And fortunately, we continue to experience and pass on these wonderful traditions, both sides of the ocean.

After dinner, we enjoyed just picked fresh figs from the garden, another thing that my grandmother loved…

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Along with limoncello, although we had to wait for it to thaw a bit!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Thanks to our hosts for an incredible dinner and evening, and most of all, for their friendship and love.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Food, Friends, Family

30 Aug

The greatest benefit we enjoy in returning to Cortona year after year is the friends we have made. Many are local and others are repeaters who love the town and its people as much as we do. Being small in size, it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street and not see familiar faces. Friends here become extended family, and spending time with them is a favorite pastime.

Last night, 25 of us gathered for a traditional Italian celebration of friendship. When we arrived, the setting welcomed us with open arms:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

As did three generations of the family:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

The beautiful table would soon be filled with food and lots of conversation, and the bbq in the back let us know that grilled meats were part of the dinner.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

The challenge, of course, is pacing oneself.

First up, Aperitivo, almost a meal in itself. Everything is freshly cut and sliced. I’ve yet to be in an Italian kitchen that doesn’t have a deli sized meat slicer! This course is generally served with Prosecco, and soon the corks were popping.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

For Primo, we enjoyed homemade lasagna, both meat and vegetarian styles,

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Followed by melanzana, (eggplant parmigiana).

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

For someone like me, who generally feels that pasta è basta, (pasta is enough), sticking to smaller portions is essential.

Next up, time for grilling. First the steaks…

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

cooked to perfection.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

followed by sausages…

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

and served with salad.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

At this point, almost all are leaning back in their chairs, taking a deep breath, and thinking they have reached the end…until…

Time for dessert!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Fresh fig and fresh apple/pistachio tortes served with gelato, caramelized figs, and moscato, a sparkling white wine.

Una bellissima serrata, as we say here…a beautiful night… filled with great food, great friends, and lots of love. We also had a surprise visitor during Aperitivo. Our dear friend Ted (who is looking terrific!),  joined us via FaceTime. After everyone said their hellos, we raised our glasses and saluted him and his health with a rowdy round of Brindisino!

To you, Ted, from your Cortona family, buona salute!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

And many thanks to our hosts and dear friends for sharing their Italian traditions with us.

Ciao,
Judy

Amatrice Donations and Recipes

28 Aug

As a follow-up to my last post, many have written asking me where they might donate and also for an Amatriciana recipe. Here are some thoughts on both.

Donations:
After the earthquake, I talked to some local friends about ways to contribute. Some suggested a few sites, and at the same time, urged a bit of cautious research. Unfortunately, we are all too aware of the scammers who pounce after tragic events and how challenging it can be to get funds to the intended.  Because of this and especially being unfamiliar with Italian relief agencies, I’ll leave it to others to do their own research. As a starting point, however, many here suggest visiting the websites of Croce Rossa Italiana (Red Cross) and NIAF (National Italian American Relief). 

Recipes:
Locals are never short on family recipes and were happy to share their own for Amatriciana. Being that they are Italian, and also the way I cook, there are no measurements included.

Recipe 1. Ingredients: Guanciale*, oil, garlic, salt, black or chili pepper, fresh or canned tomatoes (if fresh not in season), pecorino romano, parmigiano.

Recipe 2. Ingredients: Guanciale*, oil, chopped San Marzano tomatoes, pecorino romano, parmigiano.

*Guanciale is an Italian cured meat or salami product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks. If not available, use speck.

Directions: In both cases, dice and cook the meat in a frying pan until crisp, then set aside. Add the tomatoes (and spices if Recipe #1) and allow to saute in the fat from the meat for about 15 minutes, or until it thickens. In the meantime, cook pasta, often bucatini or spaghetti, until al dente. When the pasta is done, add it and the meat to the tomatoes and toss. Add the pecorino as you mix thoroughly, top with parmigiano and serve.

 LPLT / Wikimedia Commons

LPLT / Wikimedia Commons

You can find numerous variations online, all easily prepared in a short time.

Ciao,
Judy

Amatrice

25 Aug

Amatrice is a remote town along a mountainous stretch in northern Lazio, Italy. If you look at a map, it seems to sit right in the middle of the country.

mapsoftheworld.com

mapsoftheworld.com

Their website carries this banner:

City of Amatrice, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy

boghi_piu_belli_amatrice

As we all know now, yesterday, at about 3:30 am, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake shook the region. “The town is no more,” Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi told CNN affiliate Rai of the village, which has a population of around 2,000 people. (CNN)

Before social media and news channels carried the devastating photos, you may have thought you had never heard of Amatrice. Include me in that list, even though we had travelled near that region last year. And then, after reading about the town, I quickly realized that it is home to a favorite pasta dish, Amatriciana, (or pasta alla matriciana), a traditional pasta sauce based on guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomatoes. The recipe dates back to the 1700’s.

This weekend was to be the 50th annual celebration of the town’s Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana Festival.

Stampa

Instead, hundreds have lost their lives and most that survived cannot return home.

In honor and memory of the town and its people, I plan to make Amatriciana in the next few days. As with all recipes, there are slight variations, so I’ll ask local friends, who are all great cooks, what recipe has been handed down to them over the years.

As we prepare and enjoy this dish, we will toast to the memory of what was and keep the survivors and responders in our thoughts and prayers.
And someday, hopefully, with the strength and fortitude of the locals, there will be another celebration of the town’s Spaghetti Amatriciana Festival.
logo_amatrice
Ciao,
Judy

 

Love is in the …

21 Aug

Italy is often considered one of the most romantic countries in the world. If you’ve been, or seen pictures, it’s easy to understand. Love is evident in the people, the food, the culture, the music, and so on.

Today on my walk, I couldn’t help but notice how love is also in nature.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

These incredible pine trees, separated by a road many years after they took root, have grown and flourished along a nearly identical angle for dozens and dozens of years until they reunited. And now, not rain, nor hail, nor sleet, nor the strong winds are powerful enough to separate their embrace.

Love is in the air – sometimes one just needs to look up.

Ciao,
Judy

Just Picked

18 Aug

The time has finally come for our tasting – will the vegetables we planted in the spring taste as good as they look? Let’s start with the tomatoes.

And the verdict is?

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Pop in my mouth delicious!

And the zucchini?

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Affirmative again!

Our onions did well, and not so much the peppers, but those tomatoes – they just keep giving and giving! This was our pick for the day, not including those we ate as we picked.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Getting ready for dinner, Carlo cut some sunflowers for our table,

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

while Fernanda worked her magic in the kitchen. Appertivo included hot from the frying pan amazing zucchini flowers:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

and stuffed zucchini flowers, before going in the oven.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

We built our own caprese and enjoyed grilled zucchini, fresh pecorino with homemade plum and orange marmellata, and of course, prosecco.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Pasta was served with a light sugo (sauce) made from our fresh tomatoes and onions. The breeze was light, the temperature comfortable, and the proud smiles abundant.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Thinking back to last April, I can’t remember that we had grand expectations for our garden when it looked like this:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

In fact, we felt we planted a bit too early as the garden had to endure several hail storms and lots of heavy rain. But neighboring farmers have commented that their tomatoes aren’t nearly as tall or productive as ours, and that we did well to get the plants in the ground when we did. As it turns out, some of them had to plant a bit later than planned due to the soaked soil.

And while planting a garden is certainly not an Olympic event, in keeping with the times, here’s to our gold medal zucchini and tomatoes,

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

And the sense of accomplishment it bought to a bunch of Italian and American city folks working together. Auguri!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

 

Ferragosto

15 Aug

Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15 and coincides with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. For many Italians, it is their summer vacation period and a time when many places of business also close their doors for vacation.

The Feriae Augusti, from which Ferragosto takes its name, comes from the “Festivals or Holiday of the Emperor Augustus” which was introduced in 18 BC.  The Feriae Augusti linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous summer weeks.

Crowds flock to Cortona for this holiday, as they can enjoy live bands in the piazzas, various exhibits, and most of all, the Sagra della Bistecca held in the public gardens. This year numbers 57.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Large open grills, built for the occasion, become the center of attraction in the public gardens. Those tending to the grills are seasoned veterans, and know just when to turn the bistecca. Seared on the outside, very rare in the middle.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

For 28 euro, you get a bistecca, potatoes, choice of beans or tomatoes, a peach, and some vino.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Family and friends come together at long canopied tables to celebrate the holiday and share stories and laughter.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Like every festival, there is music, even if just one man and his many accouterments.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

After dinner, many walk through town to marvel at the ancient city’s beauty.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

And if your family is like mine, and a peach doesn’t quite qualify as dessert, it’s time for gelato.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Even the weather contributed to the weekend’s success  – bright blue skies, hot sun, and low humidity.

If you are thinking of Italy next summer, remember Cortona and Ferragosto.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

And if rare bistecca isn’t your thing, coming next weekend: the porcini festival!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Bragging Rights

4 Aug

Let’s begin with this amazing photo:

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

This is one tomato from our orto, one of hundreds I might add, in a garden that might be about 12 feet wide and 60-70 feet long. I’ll measure next time as I am curious myself!

As you might recall, we built cane trellises for the much-anticipated tomato plant growth, but who would ever have guessed that Carlo would eventually have to add an overhead cane trellis?

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

The garden has done incredibly well under the watchful eyes of Carlo and Fernanda, but in truth, the true bragging rights belong to the Italian soil!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

There is much advice available on how to plant a garden in Italy, including testing the soil and adding nutrients, but we did none of these other than till the land well. Luckily for us, our soil type and pH must be near perfect, but then this is Tuscany.

Len recalls that we bought 12 tomato plants total, of 3-4 different types. After we left a local family nursery, however, we realized that we didn’t have any idea which was which, as they don’t put those nice little white tags on each plant. So watching our garden grow had extra elements of daily surprise. And grow it did – more so than we had ever imagined.
IMG_3800

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Now grant you, size and quantity alone do not spell success. And thus far, I’ve had to rely on the smiles and photos from our friends who have eaten from our (ok, their) garden. But I suspect, from our conversations and the photos, that the taste will actually surpass my expectations.

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Other than the soil composition, the only added products have been patience, sunshine, water and love. Talk about organic!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Stay tuned for my upcoming taste test results. And Memo to Me: wear a dark shirt as I already visualize a delicious burst of tomato seeds when I bite my first pomodoro ciliegino (cherry tomato!).

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: