Grazie to “An Italian Dish”

Two days ago it was freezing and I dreaded walking to the car. Yesterday, the weather couldn’t make up its mind. Today, it is so hot outside that I wish some of the summer clothes that are waiting for me in Pontelandolfo were in New Jersey. The weather has been equally weird in Pontelandolfo. Snow. Sun. Sun. Snow. What season is this? These seasonal shifts have my nose running and my mouth hungry for comfort food. It seems like today’s world is tossing us weather bombs we have to skirt around. To mask or not to mask. To wear a coat, hat and gloves or turn on the air conditioner. I decided to break open a bottle of Prosecco, not look out the window and read something light and summery. Better yet, to read something full of pictures of summer fruits, vegetables and great tastes. Slowly I opened An Italian Dish Brings YouNaturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes by Ellen Shick.

Ellen Shick is a foodie after my own heart. She is an Italian American who has researched her roots, walked the paths her great grandparents walked and loves to cook. What makes her even more special is that she too finds her family tree growing in Campania.

Her blog An Italian Dish is chock full of vegetarian recipes that make my mouth water. Ellen has published a number of interesting cookbooks. They can all be found on her blog site. The photos in An Italian Dish Brings You Naturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes brought me back to summer days in Pontelandolfo. Sigh…

When Jack and I are in our little Italian village, I buy what ever fruits and vegetables are in season. The trucks carrying produce and our charming little greengrocer, il fruttivendolo, Fresh Fruits, feature local seasonal produce. There are some imports but they are from points close by like Sicily. That means in the winter you can’t get zucchini. When zucchini is everywhere, my neighbors all can or dry their extras. Yes, you can dry zucchini for the brr of winter. Zia Vittoria, our neighbor, strings it up every summer! When I get back, I should ask her how she stores it.

When we are in New Jersey, even though I know I shouldn’t, I buy vegetables that aren’t in season and grown somewhere far away. That means, in March I can make Ellen’s Marinated Zucchini! I chose this recipe because the accompanying picture just radiated summer to me. I could taste those lush red tomatoes and the bursting with goodness zucchini. Off to Whole Foods I went. I don’t mean to give such a mega corporation a plug but… the fruits and vegetables I get at the one in Princeton are always perfect. My friend Kathy tells me that is not so at the store near her.

With two pounds of zucchini in my shopping bag, I got back and put together this simple yet yummy recipe. The ingredients are: zucchini, fresh basil torn in fourths, garlic peeled and minced, the always popular extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

With my favorite Nonna knife in hand, I cut the zucchini into 1 inch chunks, put them in one of my giant pyrex bowls with a lid, added EVOO, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. The recipe said “stir well to coat every piece.” Thinking it would be exercise, I put the lid on and tossed the bowl around. As Ellen suggested, I put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. That really gave the herbs a chance to meld with the zucchini. The next day I went on to step two. Heat a large saucepan and add the zucchini and all the juices that leached out into the bowl. Sauté it uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir it and don’t forget it. Jack reminds me I often add something to the stove and race off to my computer. Suddenly, I smell burning and race back. Don’t do that. Watch the zucchini – you may have to add a splash of water to keep it from sticking. Cook the zucchini until it just begins to soften.

Now, this is the part that I had the most problem with. Do I eat it warm, juicy and divine? Or refrigerate the vegetables to have as a salad with those tomatoes that I bought? Hmm, I needed instant gratification. I ate some immediately and called it a snack. The rest I refrigerated so that I could try to copy Ellen’s fabulous photo. I couldn’t.

Photo from page 16 of “An Italian Dish Brings You Naturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes.”

Thank you to An Italian Dish for bringing a sunny day to this March madness!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge



So excited! On March 22nd, my book will be available wherever books are sold! Get it now as a presale order. Thank you so much for taking this Italian adventure with me.


Thanksgiving Dinosaur

It all started quite simply. Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November, is not an Italian holiday. We had doctor appointments that day and a dinner reservation at Sesto Senso. Sure, I love my USA family and friends but did I need a Thanksgiving dinner to speak to them? Nope. That is what FaceTime is for. The day moved smoothly along until we were sitting down at Sesto Senso. We always make a reservation for 8:00 PM and are usually one of the first couples in the place but something felt wrong. It was Thanksgiving and we are surrounded by …

Empty tables made this a sad Thanksgiving.

Chaos! That is what one has on Thanksgiving! Too much food, screams of laughter, sighs of stuffed tummies and general mayhem. I had tuna tartare and no bloat. This night just felt wrong. I had to do something in a hurry. Without thinking it through I contacted my cousin Carmella and invited her and my extended Italian family for a real American taste of Thanksgiving. Since it was going to be on Sunday, I stole a moniker from my friend Janet. Same food, same chaos, different date equals Fakesgiving.

Friday Morning. Fifteen people are coming on Sunday. Where do I find a turkey? Do they sell stuffing in a bag? The mayhem I craved roared into my life. Take a breath Jack intoned. Grabbing a piece of paper I made a menu – my mom’s 1960s menu. Appetizers and cocktails – deviled eggs, doctored cream cheese stuffed celery sticks, cute pitted olives and cheese cube on a toothpick. Main – turkey, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, green vegetable, three bean salad and succotash. Dessert – pumpkin pie, apple pie and whipped cream. Feeling so much calmer now that I had a plan, I leaped in the car. First stop the Marcelleria. Butcher, Stefano, said sure he could order a turkey breast and a turkey leg/thigh for Saturday. It would be enough for 15 people. Whew. One check on my list. Knowing I wouldn’t find canned broth for the stuffing or gravy, I bought about 3 pounds of chicken wings. Next, on to the vegetable store. Nicole found me apples, celery, onions, potatoes and joy of joy – broccoli. Lima beans, fava beans – any small green bean for succotash was out of the question. I grabbed a bag of dried white beans. At Diglio Forno I bought two loaves of bread. Next stop – Conad – pumpkin puree in a can – WHAT this is the land of homemade. My mind flashed to our veranda. My landlord had decorated with giant pumpkins. I could roast one and make my own puree. I decided to cheat and buy refrigerated pasta sfoglia for pie crusts. Heavy cream came in these little boxes on the shelf and required no refrigeration – hmmm. Cream cheese, of course they had Philadelphia. I loaded my cart with everything else I could think of. We had tons of olives processed after the harvest, so I didn’t need those. My last stop was a quick run to the cheese store. Check, check and check. Did I mention it has been raining for five days. Every time I went into a store I got drenched. Drenched and more drenched. The very dry Jack and I unloaded the car and I grabbed a pumpkin. The stock pot was loaded with the chicken wings and what ever vegetables were turning in my refrigerator. The chicken stock would slow cook over night. Sigh… What was I thinking.

Friday Afternoon. Desserts. Today, I will simply focus on making dessert. “Jack,” I bellowed, “Can you cut his fahkackatah pumpkin in half?” Jack ambled into the kitchen and pulled out a big knife. He looked at me. I looked at him. I left the room. A few hacks and curses later the pumpkin was halved and seeded. It was so large, I put the oven tray on the lowest rack and only roasted one half at a time. While the roasting was happening I commandeered Jack to start peeling apples for the apple pie. I was madly toasting bread – two cuts at a time – to get dried bread for stuffing. Other cuts of bread were stuffed in the oven around the pumpkin.

Ok. Now I have roasted pumpkin. What I do not have in Pontelandolfo is a food processor to turn the roasted pumpkin into puree. I call Carmella. She has something called a Vorwerk Bimby – food processor, cooker and fairy godmother. We dumped in the still warm pumpkin and out poured puree. So much puree. I mean buckets of puree. Soup! I’ll add pumpkin soup to the menu! Yeah, Midge why not just make more work for yourself. Chaos! I craved the chaos. Apple and pumpkin pies were made. The chicken stock was simmering. The ugly white dried beans I would use for the succotash were soaking. The table cloth and napkins were on the table. Broccoli was prepped. Vodka was poured.

Saturday. Rats. It is raining – AGAIN. Another drenched to the skin trip to the butcher. Mancini Marcelleria was packed. What are all these people doing standing outside in the rain waiting to buy meat? Covid rules – only two at a time in the store. From under my umbrella and with wet feet, I texted Jack. “This sucks.” Stefano knew I was there for the turkey parts. He went in the back and groaned under the weight of the package. The thigh and leg was so freakin’ large I started laughing. Is that from a dinosaur I asked? No, I was told a “tacchino maschio.” Man those Toms sure grow up here in the hills. If I were a hen turkey I’d be running the other way. The breast had to be ten pounds. I figured I had twenty pounds of turkey pieces. I lugged them home, hand rubbed them with herbs. Since they were sadly skinless, I layered pancetta over all of the pieces and squished them in the fridge. Saturday was a blur. My eyes were tearing from all the onions chopped. Eggs were cooked, three bean salad tossed, stuffing made, potatoes peeled, celery sliced, cheese cubed, beans cooked, pumpkin soup recipes searched, table partially set. Vodka poured.

Sunday – Fakesgiving. Like everyone who makes a turkey that weighs more than most cars here, I was up early. The turkey was weighing down the counter and the oven was preheating. I figured it would take five hours. I was wrong. I have a great convection oven and the turkey was in parts! It only took 2.5 hours and was done in advance. NOOOOOO! That wasn’t the only drama.

“Jack,” I queried, “where are the rest of the wine glasses?”

“Broken.”

“Why didn’t I know that?”

“You didn’t break them.”

Breathe. Not everyone drinks wine and a little mix and match is charming. I found a great recipe for pumpkin soup. Since I made the incredible chicken broth for the stuffing and I had puree all I needed was heavy cream. Plop. Yes, plop. The heavy cream that comes in the little boxes and don’t require refrigeration literally plop out of the box in one big disgusting white plop. Making the pumpkin pies, I had experienced this the day before, but it seemed grosser plopping into the orange soup. Tons of sage later, the soup was bubbling away. To add color to the cooked white bean and corn succotash, I diced jarred roasted pepper and tossed in some red. Potatoes were mashed. Broccoli started to steam. People arrived. We ate every bit of that menu. Giggles turned into guffaws over the 1960-esq appetizers – but I noticed all the stuffed celery was eaten.

Roasted walnuts and Parmesan – to make up for the lack of sour cream to drizzle.

My pumpkin soup was a smash. They adored the stuffing, vegetables and turkey. Antonio said, “Do this again next year.”

I looked around the table at the smiling faces. Remembered I had missed the chaos and said, “Certo.”

Vodka was poured.

Ci vedaimo!

Midge

Give the gift of theatre and order my play “E-mail: 9/12” for the book lover in your family. Find it at Next Stage Press.

Keep on the lookout for ” Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” my book of short stories about life in Italy.

It comes out in March from publisher Read Furiously.

Thank you!

Toss Those Zucchini in the Freezer!

Who knew?! I sure didn’t know I could slice, dice, and shred zucchini and toss it in the freezer. No hot stove and a pot of boiling water for blanching. No standing over a pot of steaming stuff with sweat pouring down my neck. All I needed was some local advice – grazie Carmella and Zia Vittoria.

The fields were laden with zucchini. In the morning the orange/yellow zucchini flowers would open to entertain the local bees. The color was almost as appealing as the yummy fried stuffed with mozzarella zucchini blossoms we have eaten all summer. Problem. How many fried zucchini blossoms could one person eat before succumbing to death by gluttany? Solution. Freeze the flowers to use with pasta, stuff a ravioli or add color and flavor to rice. Freezing the flowers took soooo much work. I don’t know if I should share the process, it may be taxing.

  • Wash blossoms – I picked them with clean hands from a chemical free garden. I just tossed them in cold water for a bit.
  • Drain and let blossoms dry thoroughly.  I actually patted the babies dry with paper towels.
  • Toss in freezer bags.
  • Put in freezer
  • Have a glass of prosecco to celebrate.

Carmella told me to make a simple pasta sauce by sautéing onion in olive oil then adding shredded zucchini and chopped zucchini blossoms. Some salt, pepper and grated pecorino cheese rounded out the dish. This was a great way to use up two zucchini and about 8 blossoms but what about the rest?

You can shred and freeze the zucchini! That is exactly what I did with about a third of my zucchini haul. Listening to the blues, I was bouncing and shredding. It went quickly. Soon the bags of shredded zucchini were in the freezer. Imagine a winter yen for zucchini bread and popping a bag out of the freezer. Brrr it is a cold December and you want to make zucchini fritters or “crab” cakes. Oh no, need to bring a quick dish to a party – zucchini frittata cut into bite sized squares.  With a smile you will remember that the prep is already done.

I have also diced zucchini to use in soups and sliced zucchini to use in – well something or other. Those too went into bags and then into the freezer.

Shredded, Sliced and Diced Zucchini

It is embarrassing to admit this. Please don’t tell anyone. We went out and bought a second refrigerator with a huge freezing compartment just so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about not using all the produce we got from Zia Vittoria. I love the freezer!

One day I went over to Zia Vittoria’s and found her in her work/canning kitchen frying up huge batches of something. I could smell the onions – who doesn’t love the smell of sautéed onions. Since the garden was also full of tomatoes, she was doing a quick sauté of onion, tomatoes and zucchini. She keeps saying “dura” hard. Then I got it. This was a flash plop in the olive oil and the vegetables were still crispy. She uses this mixture with pasta but I figure it is a quick side dish too.

I promptly went home and gathered up all the ingredients – did I mention a bunch of basil too.  As speedily as you could say “chop-chop,” I cooked up a fast batch. When I would rather write than cook or rather have cocktail hour than cook – all I need to do is grab a bag. I freeze in tiny sandwich size bags that I thrust inside a big freezer bag – it really is just grab and go.


We are blessed to live in a place that is rich in fresh produce and friendly neighbors who love to share with us.  I hope you are having a safe, healthy and farm to table summer! (Local farmers rock!)

Ci Vediamo

Midge

PS.  Great news to share – I just got a publishing contract with Read Furiously for my new collection of Pontelandolfo centered short stories.  “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” will be out in 2020.  Don’t fret – you all will be the first to know!

Cooking – Live From Pontelandolfo

The sky outside was grey, but my kitchen was bright and filled with the laughter and joy of Pontelandolfo’s Carmela Fusco. Disclaimer – Carmela is my talented cooking cousin. Was Carmela literally in my kitchen?  Nope, we were testing the concept of a virtual cooking class.  From sunny Italy, Carmela led students thousands of miles away through the process of making bignè, the airy pastry you need for profiteroles!  

I felt like a cooking idiot when, during the process, I realized that profiteroles – I had only ever seen stacked in a pyramid and covered with dripped chocolate – were literally the favorite dessert of my youth.  Chocolate covered cream puffs!  My mother, bless her soul, used to make them for special occasions.  I never tried, but when I needed a mom hug, I would buy a box of Boston Cream Pie mix and get almost the same creamy taste. It wasn’t the same but I could feel the love.

Something else I learned, was that bignè is also called choux pastry.  There isn’t any yeast or raising agent in the dough.  It has a high moisture content that creates steam and that puffs the pastry.  Isn’t the science of food grand?

Carmela’s daughter Annarita Mancini, as she does for our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, was there to translate.  Those of us gathered around our tablets trying to make bignè study Italian with Annarita and vowed not to ask for her help. Gulp, I needed her help. I mean, I have only been trying to learn Italian for twenty years, cut me a break.  This wasn’t just a cooking class. This was a chance to use the Italian we had been studying in a real-world situation.  What could be a better place to practice our language skills than Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Admission – when we obviously didn’t quite get what Carmela was saying, Annarita jumped in.)

I am only going to talk about the first step towards the light, cream filled profiteroles – making the bignè. This is the small pastry of a cream puff.  Carmela told me that the neat thing about her bignè is that you can stuff it with sweet or savory fillings.  She doesn’t add sugar, as I think my mom did, into the pastry.  The ingredients are:

150 grams acqua – water

80 grams burro – butter

150 grams farina – flour

5 – 6 uova – eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius .

Prep a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Even though we got the ingredient list sent to us, there was a wee dilemma changing the metric measures into the British Imperial System on the fly.  Correct, I had no idea that cups, ounces and pounds were part of something called the British Imperial System.  Cripes, it even sounds like empire building. One learns something new every day.  Time to work on my math skills or have the conversion app open on my phone.

We put the water in a big pot on the unlit stove and added all the butter.  Then we turned the heat on high and melted the butter.  It takes a long time to melt that much butter.  When it finally melted and had little boiling bubbles we added the flour a little at a time. (Other recipes on line said dump all the flour in at once – Carmela was meticulous about drizzling the flour in.) KEEP STIRRING.  This part requires a strong arm.  Who needs a gym – you have a kitchen!  When the dough started to cling together in a ball and no longer stuck to the pot, we turned off the heat.  We stirred the dough a bit more – with Carmela warning us, “not too much we don’t want it to cool.  Now, crush it so it isn’t a ball.”  What?? We just stirred until our arms ached and made the bloody ball – now I have to crush it? We smooshed our balls.

This next part was kind of magical and required eyes that saw the nuances of color.  We added an egg and blended it into the dough until the color of the dough was the color it was before we added the egg.  When your arm starts to scream, get someone else to take a turn stirring.  Finally, the color will be same as it was.  Then add the second egg and repeat the process.  Yup, it is a long process but the results – delicious.  Once again, when the color was the same as it was before the second egg we tossed in egg number three.  

No, you are crying not again!  Why didn’t we just toss all the eggs in at once?  Carmela pointed out it might seem easier to add all the eggs at once but the secret for a cloud like bignè is to do it this way.  The dough needs time to absorb each egg. I think this should be a team sport – like a relay with someone else there to take a stirring turn. They could also keep the Prosecco glasses full.

We were laughing out loud as we tried to show Carmella our dough by tilting our iPads and phones towards our pots without dropping them in.  Stop laughing!  Add egg number four!  We repeated the process and then added the fifth and final egg.

Whew, this was the hardest part.  Where is that prosecco? 

Using a spatula we cleaned the sides of the pot by drawing all the sticky dough to the center in a ball like pile.  Now, taking two tablespoons,  we attempted to drop the dough in cute balls on the prepared cookie sheet.  Carmela is a master at this, she rolled the dough back and forth and created balls.  She pointed out they didn’t have to be perfect.  Misshapen was fine – except all of hers were perfect and all of mine looked a lot less than perfect.

Carmela said, “Make sure you leave space between the globs.  With all those eggs the pastry will rise. When our nonnas made this pasta they used their hands to mix the dough – even though it was really hot.”  Hmmm, maybe that is where I got my asbestos hands.

Almost done. Put the tray of bignè into the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.  They will grow and get a warm toasty color. They really do grow! Well not everyone’s grew we did have a batch that kind of looked like tasty hockey pucks.

When you take these lovelies out of the oven and they have cooled you can slice them and use them for light little tea sandwiches or invite me over because you are filling them with a decadent cream and topping them with chocolate.  Yummy.

Carmela’s Bignè – Perfetto!

We all had a great time giggling, groaning and cooking with Carmela. Can’t wait until the pandemic is over and we can really be with her in her kitchen!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

Organizing 2022 Now. Click here for more information.

Pop Those Fava Skins – Pop Pop

Spring may have sprung and gone, but my Fava memories deserve sharing. I’ve told you the tales of the roving basket of fava beans. I didn’t enjoy as many fava dishes this year as I have in the past, but did discover something worth shucking a bean pod about. Normally, after shucking a basked of bean pods, I cook the beans in their shells. Frankly, the thought of adding another step to the cooking process seemed like a pain in the pattooty. Then one fava craving day, I googled FAVA BEANS. I was surfing for any interesting recipes. Each one I found said shell the beans. NOOO! I am not going to boil a pot of water, toss in the beans, pull the beans out and burn my hands just to shell them. Shucking them from the pods is work enough.

Apparently, some other cooks didn’t want to deal with the heat of the boil either. They froze the beans instead. I couldn’t believe it when I read that and googled fava some more. Quite a few sources said freeze the beans and the shells practically pop off the bean. Hmmm. Of course, I read all the instructions and then realized I didn’t have a small sheet pan that would fit in my freezer and guarantee a single layer of beans. Also, I wasn’t going to hang around and time the beans for 30 minutes.

I shucked the beans and tossed them into a nine inch square baking dish – it is what I had that would fit in the little freezer. Were the beans in rigid little rows not touching? Nope, I tossed them in the dish. Yup, they were on top of each other. Then I put the dish in the freezer and forgot about it. Later that night, I remembered and went to visit them. They had turned whitish and looked cold. I stirred them so the ones on the top could cuddle up on the bottom. Then I went to bed.

The next night, I wanted to use the beans. I remembered reading they should be allowed to thaw for at least 15 minutes. Of course, that meant I was not going to get dinner done in time so I didn’t wait. WRONG. This was a classic “Midge doesn’t listen” mistake.

As they thaw they get more and more wrinkly –
like your forehead when you squint in the sun.

When I first tried to pop the beans out, all I did was freeze my fingers and ultimately peel the shell layer off. As the beans began to thaw it became a flim flam thank you ma’am.

Squish and pop!

Notice how the beans in this picture look whiter and wrinkled. They were thawing. It actually works! But you really have to wait at least 15 minutes.

It does take time to shell the beans and frankly, I don’t know if my palate is refined enough to really taste the difference. They do feel smoother when I eat them, but taste better? Jack said they tasted different but he wasn’t sure either if it was better. What do you think?

How did I cook them? Hmm – what did I do? We just chopped up bacon and let it sizzle. Then snuck in a little olive oil and a grossly chopped onion. When the onion started to look translucent, I tossed in the beans and enough lamb bone broth to cover them. The usual seasonings were added to the pot – salt, pepper, bay leaf and (please don’t tell my nonna) garlic powder. I also added some thick chunked potatoes. Slowly they cooked.

They were tasty. Coupled with some crusty rye bread, they were dipping great. Would I peel the shells in the future? Hmmm.

Ci Vediamo,

Midge

http://www.cookinginthekitchensofpontelandolfo.com

http://www.midgeguerrera.com

The Wheat Comes From Where????

What? I queried.  You went where to buy wheat?

The well heeled Italian businessman replied, Texas.

Jack and I love to travel on Italian trains. Age brings its perks – deep discounts on business or first class tickets.   I like the “four-top” set up. Four comfortable seats surround a table. There are places to plug in your “God Forbid I forget my iPad,” and interesting folks to chat with.  For example, the two businessmen who sat across from Jack and I. After ten seconds, they realized immediately that we were Americans and proudly proclaimed that they had just come back from Texas.

Charming gabby girl said, Texas – that is a great place to visit.

We were on business.

Jack was immersed in his book when I said, What do you do?

We buy grain.  We import Texas wheat to Italy.

My mind said “what the duck” but my mouth politely spit out, Why?

For the pasta industry.

Hands started flying and words were soaring over the four-top.  Now I was not, as Jack said, being SNARKY when I bellowed – Texas!  They make Italian pasta with wheat from Texas!  I wouldn’t eat anything grown in pesticide ridden Texas.  That is when Jack kicked me under the table.  OUCH!  (Don’t you kick me too – Texas does restrict some use of pesticides – I looked it up.)

The men, being politicians at heart, explained that Italy doesn’t grow enough wheat to make all the international pasta lovers happy.  Italian companies need to import wheat to satisfy the market need.  They have been buying wheat from the USA and Canada for years.

Pasta 2.jpg

According to an October 2019 article in Worlds Top Exports,  in 2018, Italy ranked 4th in wheat importing.  They imported $1.82 billion of the heavenly grain.  The USA sold them 28.1% less than the previous year but still raked in $146.2 million.  Canada sold 81.1% less than the year before.  Why you might ask?  The answer is simple – pesticides.  I discovered an article on i-politics that talked about Barilla Pasta Company speaking to Canadian growers and explaining Italians don’t want to eat what they perceive as poison.  Italians lobbied and marched for locally sourced grains.

Italy, like other countries, legislated Country of Origin Labeling  (COOL) for food. That means you have to say where the wheat was grown and were it was processed.  That gives consumers an option.  They can decide where they want their dinner’s ingredients to hail from. I believe in eating local and shopping local.  What happens to wheat when it is shipped in big containers across the seas? Errrrggg – I can’t imagine the creepy critters that have stowed away.

In 1846 Antonio Rummo started making Rummo Pasta in Benevento.  The wheat he used was only from the Italian regions of Puglia and Campania.  I was sad to see that they too had to import wheat to satisfy their global customers.   Rummo is a local company so I do support them – but I also always read the label.

La Molisano Pasta is from Campobasso, also close to Pontelandolfo. Some of their products proudly proclaim on the front of the bag “Solo Grano Italiano.”Pasta 3.jpg

Other packages I have to turn over and put on my glasses to discover where the wheat was from.  Happily, I have only found La Molisana in our local supermarket made with Italian grain.

Pasta 1.jpg

The USA does have COOL legislation.  Those “made in China” labels are everywhere.  Are we equally concerned about food?  We have all seen the labels in supermarkets that told us where the produce was fun.  Are those signs still there?  Let me know. In February, 2016 the United States Department of Agriculture repealed the COOL requirements for Beef and Pork.   I stopped reading their website after I saw that…

Those of you are shopping in any country but Italy, please let me know if COOL is in effect on pasta, rice and dry goods.  Are the labels there? I am really curious.

It is amazing what you can learn traveling by train.

Ci Vediamo!

Save Those Bottles for Sott’olio!

Spring sprang or is that sprung or had sprung ? Pontelandolfese were springing over hill and dale hunting for spring vegetables. The favorite being wild asparagi! Thin, supple, dancing in the breeze – just like my fantasy of me – these delicious wild asparagus are prized among the gatherers. When I spy a smiling forager, I know that they have filled their baskets with asparagus. Some people just seem to know where to look.

I’ve spotted pokey amounts along the side of the road. Local wisdom has it that you shouldn’t pick stuff close to the roads – unless you’re starving. Makes sense to me – exhaust fumes cough, cough – have coated the wild sprigs. Real gatherers head for the hills. Fresh air, healthy hike and yummy finds make those a great experience.

download

Did I go? Seriously? It sounds lovely but I had to wash my hair. Actually, having had Lyme Disese twice, I am afraid of ticks and don’t forage in tick land. The other reason I didn’t go was simply, my lovely neighbors and friends fear that since I am always off doing something, Jack will starve. If baskets of greens aren’t dropped near my door, they will find poor Jack on the veranda writhing with hunger. I love this myth!

My friend Nunzia appeared with not only a basket of wild asparagus picked by her charming husband, Amedeo, but also some in bottles covered in oil – sott’olio. Canning to me sounds complicated. I am afraid that I will kill people with tasty botulism or something equally gruesome. What everyone does here is not really canning but oiling. WHAT. Sounds like a spa gone wrong. This is so easy and so right that even I can do it. Folks in Pontelandolfo jar eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, sun dried zucchine and more sott’olio. I asked a couple of people to tell me how they do it. Everyone starts with uber fresh vegetables.  I mean picked today or last night.  All are washed, cleaned and chopped into little pieces. After talking to my friends and tasting what they jar, I realized there seems to be the only a few differences in the methods.

Thank you Nunzia for the jar of asparagus! Jack scoffed them down – he will not starve this week. Here is how she does it.  This technique can be used for a variety of produce including artichokes, eggplant and zucchini.  After you have prepped the asparagus, pour one liter of vinegar, half liter of water and a teaspoon of salt into a big pot.  Bring it to a boil and dump in the asparagus. Cook them for a scant 4 or 5 minutes. Drain them and them lay them out on a clean dishtowel and thoroughly dry them.  When they are dry put them in your recycled but clean jars. Leave a wee bit of room at the top.  Cover them completely with olive oil.  Then bang the jar – don’t break it – so that the vegetables move and mush down a bit.  Or with a clean fork push them down.  Make sure they are all totally covered in olive oil.  Then put the clean lid back on and put them in the cupboard until you need them.

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Cousin Carmella is my go to person for cooking questions.  She is one of the home cooks that the culinary adventurers for our September 7 – 14 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo will get to cook, laugh and eat with.  Her sott’olio method for asparagus was a little different from Nunzia’s.  The prep is the same.  In a big pot bring to a boil two parts water and two parts vinegar with enough added salt to your taste.  When it is boiling, add the asparagus and push them down to the bottom.  They will rise up to the top.  When they do push them down to the bottom again.  Do this three times and drain them in a colander.  When they are cool, put them in a bowl and toss them with olive oil.  Next, put them in the jars and push them down lightly before covering them with olive oil.  Carmella’s husband Mario forages for mushrooms and she does the same process for them.  She noted that mushroom and asparagus cook in just a few minutes.  Other types of vegetables need to boil longer.  She feels that the vinegar is a better conservation method than using wine.  Wine make give it a better taste but you have to eat the items sooner

Besides the fact that we buy wine by the  five liter jug, you may be wondering why I asked her about using wine in the process.  Another great cook and lover of eating out in new restaurants with me, is my pharmacist pal, Adele.  One day she brought over a jar of artichoke hearts sott’olio.  Ha! She thought Jack would add them to his lunch time salad.  I ate every last one, they were delicious.  When the baby artichokes are plentiful in the market, she buys a bunch to put away and use in future dishes.  She had us over for her homemade ravioli stuffed with artichokes and we both loved them. Her technique for sott’olio is a different. Remember she makes a huge batch!  The first thing I noticed is that she strips away virtually all of the outer part of the artichoke and is left with the small center.  Prep for artichokes includes soaking them in water an lemon for at least an hour.  This is too keep them looking pale green and lovely. After the lemon soak, place each one upside down on a clean dish towel to drain. Her canning formula mixes 1 liter of vinegar with 1 liter of white wine and a half liter of water.  She tosses in some salt and brings it to a boil. When the liquid begins to boil again, time the cooking.  Boil the artichokes for only 5 minutes and using an colander promptly drain them.  Then put each one upside down on a clean dishtowel so that all of the liquid drains out.  Dry them too.  When they are completely cold put them in clean, sterilized glass jars and cover them with – not olive – sunflower seed oil!  Adele uses sunflower seed oil which makes her process really different.  She too uses the same process for different vegetables but alters the time.

I have been so fortunate to have met people who want to feed me.  All of the vegetables I have tasted processed like this have been a little crunchy, tangy and wonderful.  Try it this summer and let me know how it works out for you!

SPECIAL COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO DEAL ALERT!!!!

We have room for two more culinary adventurers for our  September 7 – 14, 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.  I want to see the session filled so I am doing something we have never done – HAVING A SALE! Send me an e-mail ASAP to be one of the two and receive a delightful discount!  HOW DELIGHTFUL?  10% OFF DELIGHTFUL! THAT IS A €€€€ SAVING! Contact me to find out just how great it is.

Info@nonnasmulberrytree.com. Do it today and have the cooking time of your life this fall. 

Ci vediamo!

 

The Pizzagaina Caper

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum. (Opening music to a Bond film).

The first one turned up Friday morning. Could its humble crust and crescent shape hide a nefarious role? It was warm to the touch – ah ha! Warm made it even more inviting.  Do we dare cut it open and see what the flaky crust contains?

Looks safe enough – is that a quiche like filling?  I decide to investigate the mysterious arrival of unrequested pizzagaina further and head over to ace cook and my bestie cugina, Carmela Fusco’s house. Was bringing pizzagaina to a pals house a holiday custom?  Do they just magically appear?  As I climbed the steps, this incredible odor wafted down.  I picked up the pace and raced up the stairs.  From the exercise or the thought of tasting whatever food was causing that heavenly scent, my tongue was hanging out of my mouth.  I pushed open the door.

Permesso, I bellowed practically pushing Carmela aside before she could say, avanti.

There on her kitchen table were a stack of the crescents, hot from the oven and screaming to be eaten. 

I lunged for one.  She smacked my hand and explained, it was Good Friday, the day everyone makes the traditional Easter stuffed pastry, pizzagaina. But since they contain meat no one may eat them. 

What???  I thought the Catholic Church said it was OK to eat meat on Friday. Carmela looked at me and said, questo è il venerdì Santo.  Holy Friday, hmmm.  Diverting my attention from the great look and smell of the pastries, I asked how she made them.  She looked at me sternly and told me she made them the same way her grandmother made them and her grandmother wouldn’t let anyone eat them on Good Friday either.

The heart of the crust was not the flour – in today’s case whole wheat flour.  Nor was it the eggs, wee bit of salt and pepper.  The way to get a crunchy flakey crust is too make sure you have a pal who just butchered one of their hogs and gives you fresh lard. (Growing up in Flagtown my mom and nonna swore by lard too.) . Carmela had more than a liter of lard.  I could just imagine all the great crusts she would be making and hoped I’d get invited.

 

Like most of the great cooks in Pontelandolfo, Carmela doesn’t measure. She just knows how much flour, lard, egg, salt and pepper will work well together. The creamy filling I saw oozing out of the top of one of the pastries was egg, diced dried sausage (pepperoni), parmesan cheese and a local aged – stagionato – cheese. She said everyone made them the same way – with a wee bit of personalization. I had a deja vu moment when she told me her secret ingredient was an addition of a little cooked white rice. Shazaam, my Aunt Julie’s had added rice too. One of Carmela’s neighbors adds raisons another cooked fresh sausage.

Now, I am thinking quiche and runny egg so I demanded further information and asked how she got the egg goo not to run all over the table. By then her daughter, Annarita, had arrived and they both looked at me like I was stupider than a chicken. Actually, I think one of might have asked me if I was stupider than a chicken. You beat the eggs, add the diced sausage and then add so much cheese that you get a super thick filling that you can spread. OOOOHHHHH! Circles of dough are rolled. The filling is spread on half the circle – leaving about an inch margin. Then the unfilled half is folded over and the crescent is sealed by pinching the edges together.

Now can we taste one? I asked again with a winsome smile on my face. NO! they both shouted at me. If Jesus could suffer on the cross, we can spend one day without meat! With that they wrapped one up for me to take home and sent me out the door.

Wait, they wrapped one up for me to take home! It was still warm. The odor was so strong I wanted to shove the whole thing in my mouth. But I didn’t. I drove home. Only to find two more pizzagaina on my door step. Easter gifts from neighbors. Apparently, it is a custom. This is torture. I now have a counter full of delicious things that I am not allowed to eat! Then I got it! It was an evil plot to torture me and get the enticing things out of other people’s homes! Errrrrgggg. After pouring a finger of scotch, I started to rethink this caper. Was it really nefarious? Or was it an Easter lesson learned. I finally got it. Lesson learned and remembered.

Ci vediamo a presto! Buona Pasqua!

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Carmela is one of the ace cooks you can visit and learn from. There are still 2 spots left in the September 7-14 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.

Click here for more information! Or email info@nonnasmulberrytree.com