This month the hills and fields of Pontelandolfo are a bustle of olive picking activity. Tis the season to make that luscious green-yellow oil that the Sannio Hills are known for.
Photo by Gabrielle Iacovella
Our village is chock full of ancient Ortice olive groves. For generations families have been harvesting their olives and either pressing the oil themselves or since the dawning of the 1900’s taking them to our local Frantoio Oleario Rinaldi – the olive oil mill owned by the Rinaldi family. Started by Giovanni Rinaldi, the oil mill has been managed by a Rinaldi for generations. Today’s managing director is Rocco Rinaldi. His sons Gianfranco and Sergio play active roles. The other role of Gianfranco’s is that of the mayor – sindaco – of Pontelandolfo. Sergio is a professional taster certified by the National Organization of Olive Oil Tasters in Italy.
My New Jersey tasters aren’t certified but love the heady aroma and flavor of Rinaldi’s Vantera brand oil. I had a case of Vantera – sent to New Jersey just in time for last Christmas. Today, one of the recipients asked if Santa’s Elves were shipping another case over this year. Hmmm, I wonder if she has been naughty or nice?
We are truly oil spoiled. Folks in Pontelandolfo who make their own oil, often store it in centuries old stone cisterns or vats. My happy oil dance just spins out of control when my pal Nicola takes the lid off his vat and scoops his fresh oil into a jar for me. YUMMY!
My first thought was to tell you all about how this great oil is made through a cold milling process. The oil is extracted through a “superdecanter” in the low-temperature, continuous plant.
Cook, Eat Laugh! That is exactly what happens each time a group of adventurous foodies – women and men – come to Pontelandolfo and hang out in local kitchens and learn the dishes that nonnas have been sharing for generations. Pontelandolfo – to me – is an example of the best that Italy has to offer. No backpack swinging tourists. No overpriced cappuccinos. Simply incredible mountain views, fresh foods cooked seasonally, a population that embraces life with joy and a welcoming attitude that surrounds all newcomers.
Just a scant two years ago, Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo was an idea floating around a kitchen table. How could we bring some tourism money to Southern Italy and not promote the town into another jammed packed tourist site. The “ah- ha” moment came when a visitor said to me, I would love to just spend a week here living like the Pontelandolfese. Bingo! Together with a group of homemakers an incredible opportunity, for folks who love to cook and travel off the beaten tourist track, was born. Visitors have been Cooking, Eating and Laughing ever since we produced the first event in May 2016.
Our First Group Visited Our Historic Tower
Now it is your turn! Cook, Eat, Laugh! Become part of a small Southern Italian village’s life. See a different part of Italy and taste dishes that go back generations.
Pranzo (lunch) at an agriturismo. A great example of Italian Farm-to-Table eating.
4 half-day cooking classes with local cooks. After preparing the dishes for pranzo or cena you will sit down and eat with the family. Here is an example from September 2018 – some of you may have seen this!
English Speaking Translator for all classes and events.
Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner
Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products and other activities.
Excursion to Sepino Altilia Roman Ruins
Walking Tour of Historical Pontelandolfo
Visits to another village’s cultural site or a cultural activity – to be determined.
Last night “arriverderci” with all the local cooks.
Written recipes in English.
Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations. This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets but it is not handicapped accessible. The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly environment.
To see more photos of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo, visit our Facebook Page.
Cook, Eat and Laugh with us!
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You’ve seen lots of folks “cry in their beer.” But, I’m willing to bet that I’m the only person on the planet seen crying over cooked pig’s feet. As I slurped the meat and fat off the bones cooked to perfection in parrozz, I could feel my nonna hugging me and hear the squabbling of my Italo-Americano family fill the Flagtown farmhouse kitchen. Parrozz- what the heck is parrozz? Thank you Angelamaria Addona of B&B Calvello for whisking me – and our group of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo September 2017 cooks – back in time. To the time when subsistence farming, foraging and eating every single bit of the animal you raised was the norm.
Kathy, one of my best foodie buds, couldn’t believe it when I called her about this dish. I literally had started crying when I ate it and when I talked about it. Crying for my Nonna Rosa, Zia Caterina and all the elders of my family who not only had made this dish after foraging for dandelions and wild fennel but passed me the mapeen so I could wipe my hands on the communal towel after sucking the meat off every bone in my bowl. Pig parts and weeds, I said to Kathy. Pig parts and weeds – so delicious that I could have stayed at B&B Calvello long after the van came to pick up the American cooks and kept on eating. Kathy suggested that I stop calling the dish “pig parts and weeds”. In dialect it is called Parrozz con Cacchiarella!
In her turn of the 20th century kitchen, Angela made parrozz – vegetable and meat soup/stew – and cacchiarella – unleavened corn bread. Parrozz con cacchiarella is a dish that dates back to the time my ancestors scampered over our Sannio hills searching for what today’s foodies call edibles.
If you are not afraid to forage, here is how you make it. Go out in the field and pick what ever vegetable green is in season. Verdure di compagnia– greens from the countryside. She used the white part of bietola, which is in the rhubarb family. Cicoria, chicory, was raising its green head on the countryside so that was the second veggie. She washed the veggies and cut them in big chunks. They were tossed in a pot and covered with water with a dash of salt. When the water came to a boil the veggies simmered for half an hour.
Angela cooked some local cabbage leaves while pig parts were cooking away in yet another pot. These are the parts of the pig I LOVE – pig’s ear, feet, cheeks etc. Boiling softens them and lets some of the grease out. After the pork had cooked, she tossed out most of the water and layered the cooked vegetables on top of the pork pieces. Chunks of garlic were tossed into the fray. Do not mix it up! Top it with the pre-cooked cabbage. Think of this as a green lid. Toss a wee bit of salt on top and a tiny bit of olive oil. Not a lot since the pig parts are full of fat. Cover the pot and cook it very slowly on a low heat. It is great with wild fennel – but they weren’t in season now – so Angela added fennel seeds.
A wee bit later, Angela took the lid off the parrozz to let the extra water evaporate. She lowered the flame even more and pushed the cabbage down on in the pot. Do not turn the pot! The pig parts stay on the bottom and the vegetables stay on the top! The minestra will be bubbling, you will smell the pork and veggies and keep on wanting to stir it up. DON’T! Leave the pot alone and let it simmer along until the weeds – oops – I mean greens are cooked and the scent of pork wafts through the kitchen.
When the liquid comes to the top and the veggies sink. Turn it off!!! It is finished. But what about the cornbread called Cacchiarella? You would have been working on it while the soup/stew was bubbling away.
The first step to making the cacchiarella made no sense to me – until my ah ha moment later. Take giant cabbage leaves and cut off the bottoms and slit the core a wee bit. Wet them and put them in the sun so that they will wilt and get flat. Then go out to the fields and cut some sambuca tree branches to make a broom. Why? You will of course be using a wood burning oven and need the broom to push the coals back to the side while maintaining the temperature of the oven. Wet a second broom to really clean the base of the oven. Oops, guess I forgot to mention that Angela’s kitchen has a wood burning oven and stove!
Back to the corn bread. Make a flat circle out of four or five flattened cabbage leaves. Flatten them further. They are now the tray or parchment paper for the corn bread. The corn bread she made with our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo cooks included 600 ML of water, 1 kilogram of corn meal, 4 spoons of salt – well they were spoons, a hand full of wild fennel seeds and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Knead it up! Take your aggressions out on the dough! Meanwhile, for a few hours your wood burning oven has been filling the air with the scent of days gone bye. Oh, only use olive tree wood in the oven and when the bricks turn white sweep the coals over to one side with a broom made with sambuca leaves. Then take the dough and spread it out on the cabbage leaves and with your handy pizza peel slide it into the prepared wood burning oven. Wheeeooo, this is a lot of work. Watch it rise and fall and turn a golden brown. Then pull it out and remove the cabbage leaves – let it cool a second or more first. Rip up the corn bread and add it to the top of the soup/stew pot. Serve it immediately and watch me salivate. Watch the tape and enjoy.
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Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo May 19 -26 and September 8-15, 2018
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Some days – the ones when I am not pretending to work – Jack and I get in the car for rides to nowhere special. We simply drive and stare. We have visited and lived in Italy for more years than I will admit to and the views still enthrall us. Patchwork green hills frame the blue sky. My favorite nowhere special drives have the sea on one side of the road and the hills on the other. One day, we saw a sign that said Porto Vasto and thought – what the heck lets check out the port. We veered off the highway and started bumping down one of Italy’s many pot hole riddled roads. I think it was the bumping that got our tummy’s gurgling for food. Stop! I screamed. What! Jack screamed. Look there is a sign for a restaurant – Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra. Pirate by the blue bay???? Ahoy matey we found a place to eat. We made the 90 degree turn and slowly crept down the narrow lane. We approached a large white house that seemed perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Jack and I stared at each other. There was no sign of life – and certainly no sign that said “Good Eats, Eat Here.” What the hell, we are adventurous. As I started to open the car door, Woody Allen with a Jerry Garcia haircut burst from the house, helped me open my door and hugged me like I was his long lost Auntie Midge. We were whisked into the house and a smiling gracious woman came out of the kitchen wiped her hands on a mapine and gave us hello kisses.
Where are we? I thought the first time we went. Where are the cameras? Is this my closeup? Antonello and his wife Grazia are the owners, front of house, cooks and bottle washers of what has become our absolute favorite seafood restaurant. The interior is adorable. The walls were festooned with portraits of press clips of a man who kind of looked like our host. Further investigation revealed that Antonello’s dad, Claudio Crisci, was a vibrant entertainer who started the restaurant with his wife. It has always been a two person operation committed to slow fresh food. The tables faced a wall of windows with a stellar view of the sea. Rather than sit, we were taken on a short tour of the veranda that overlooks the Adriatic ocean. Talk about view! We would just come for the view but the food! The scents of the sea wafted over us and we remembered we were starving. We only chose courses from the sea and all were prepared perfectly. How can one woman alone in the kitchen turn out such great stuff? Now that we are five times a year regulars, I can tell you that it is a wee bit more than eating in Pontelandolfo but worth it. Our bill is usually around €100 but we spend hours drinking two bottles of wine, eating seafood antipasti served in multiple courses and a grilled fish entré that would feed a small family.
I could show you pictures of the food and talk about each course, but you will only get jealous and race to the refrigerator to angrily discover you don’t have any miniature clams opened in white wine, or octopus sautéed with parsley and garlic in the most fragrant of local olive oils and be frustrated because you can’t find langoustine split and grilled in your grandmother’s clay baking dish. So, I won’t tell you what we had. But please watch the video!
IT takes us an hour and a half to get there but ahhhhh – seafood by the sea with antics by our host. Who could ask for a better way to spend the day. “Ristorante Tipico, Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra is located at Via Osca, 51 in Porto Di Vasto. Call them at 0873.310.1113
Sitting on the train between Naples and Milan, I was feeling sad about leaving Pontelandolfo when the elfin face of Zia Vittoria flashed across the screen of my brain. She was waving a plate of stuffed melanzane in front of my 8:00 AM – been on the road since 5:30 AM – hungry face. Now I see the train staff coming down the aisle with our early morning caffe and snacks so I know Zia Vittoria is a mirage. Since train food – even in prima class is even worse than airplane food, let’s go with my mirage. Melanzana – eggplant – is one of my “go to” comfort foods. All of you arm chair psychologists will opine that I’m having this mirage – that includes scent – to get me out of my doldrums.
When the eggplants were in season in Pontelandolfo every home was chock full of the black-purple wonders. With a basket of them sitting on my kitchen table and my brain directing Sean Connery in a romantic comedy instead of focusing on eggplant – though it was one eggplant that made me thing of Connery – I hadn’t come up with a recipe. Then the angel of cooking appeared with what looked like a hot panini and said assaggiarlo – taste it.
I did. I let the soft flesh of the melanzana coupled with the great salty cream of a local sheep milk cheese roll around all the taste buds of my tongue. It was wonderful. Think grilled cheese without the bread! I followed my cooking muse out to the work kitchen near her gardens.
Peel only two sides of the eggplant. Buccia pieno di vitamine. The skin is full of vitamins. Then make three or four really thick slices with the buccia on the outside of the slice. It is the crust of our eggplant bread. The slices need to be thick enough to partially split in half. Leave a “hinge” at the bottom. When I slice a pita bread I also leave a closed bottom so the goodies don’t leak out.
Vittoria uses a simple filing of fresh basil, eggs and sheep’s milk cheese. She thick grated the cheese – which was fairly soft or new cheese. Tons of cheese were added to 6 whipped eggs. She tossed in a pinch of flour and chopped basil. The mixture looks like lumpy cream cheese when it is stirred and melded together. It does not drip! It is super thick. You can see it in the above photo.
Finally fry both sides of the eggplant sandwhich in olive oil and keep Midge out of the kitchen or they will all be gone and you won’t have any to freeze. Did she say freeze? Many families in Pontelandolfo conserve their fresh products either by canning, drying or freezing. Zia Vittoria has a chest freezer that is always crammed full at the end of the summer.
I like to eat the stuffed eggplant literally like a sandwich. She puts then in aluminum pans and covers them with what she calls sughetto and freezes them. They will be brought out in the winter, baked and eaten like – you guessed it – a vegetarian lasagna!
Her sughetto is simply chopped tomatoes sautéed in olive oil with a smattering of salt and pepper.
Hmmmmmmmm. I can still smell them frying.
What’s that? You want my ticket? Oh that’s right I’m on the train to Milan.
Next summer I will be back and so will the eggplant grilled cheese sandwiches.
After last May’s Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo event, I was talking food with one of the cooks who opened their homes to that first group – the wood fire pizza making guru – Nicolo Ciarlo. Note the meats hanging in the background –
What? Are you serious, I demanded. Your parents make prosciutto crudo in Connecticut? Do they buy a whole pig? “Midge”, he looked at me like I was stupid, “they go to Costco.” Dimmi, I replied – tell me and tell me all! He did – here is just one of the type of things you can learn if you come to Cook in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo May 20 – 27th 2017!
Prosciutto Crudo – Made and Eaten by YOU!
First of all don’t go running out today to start the process. The best time to make prosciutto crudo is from December to March. AND – you really need to live in a place with an unheated garage. Talk to the meat manager at Costco and find out when the fresh meat arrives. Go on that day and buy fresh ham – a pigs upper leg. Make sure it is on the bone – it is the butt and part of leg bone. While you are there buy a ton – I mean a real ton of large grain salt.
Location, location – bring home the hog and head for the garage. Get out your large wooden pasta board or just use a wooden table – now I do not know why it has to be a wooden table. This is not exact science here – but hearsay and traditional methods. Put a table cloth on the board or table first and cover it with lots of salt – so much salt that you can’t see the tablecloth. Put the hunk of pig on the salt and pour more sale all over the pork. Rub that salt in! Get that salt in every crevice. Now, wrap the meat in the table cloth and raise one side of the board or the table to a pretty good angle. Stick a large plastic tub on the floor near the low end. The tub will catch the salt, blood and liquids that will run off the meat. Yum. You do not want the meat to freeze! A cold garage but not a freezing garage is best. Keep the dog out of the garage! The meat stays in this position for 40 days.
After 40 days take cloth off the meat. You can press the meat down to insure that all the liquid is gone. To remove the salt wash the meat thoroughly in red wine. You may drink a glass of red wine during this process. Next tie a sturdy cord around the bone and hang it from a rafter for one day – that plastic tub comes in handy now too. You need the wine to dry out. When you wash the hog with red wine you see the meat become red.
After the meat is dry, absolutely cover it with red pepper, black pepper and garlic. Rub those peppercorns in and cover the meat with a light cotton fabric so that bugs can’t get in. Now hang the processed meat for one or two years – depending on the weight in an area that is always cool. You may have to move it from garage to the basement etc. Wait a second? Did you think you were going to get immediate gratification? Traditional fare takes time and is worth the wait. After the meat hangs for the requisite years you clean off the conserving spices. Next slice off hunks, put them in vacuum pack bags and enjoy.
Speaking of enjoying – why not come to my little village next May and Cook in the Kitchen’s of Pontelandolfo!
Saturday, May 20, 2017 To Saturday, May 27, 2017Limited to 8 People
Everyday it seems there is a mysterious bag, basket or pile of zucchini by my door. These things must multiply like rabbits. Last year, it seemed like I was chomping down on zucchini blossoms daily. Bundles of fully formed zucchini didn’t appear because we were all too busy frying up the flowers – remember this post: Fried Squash Blossoms Don’t forget – all recipes are posted in the recipe section. Look above the Tower Picture to find the tabs.
I thought I knew how to make ciambotta! Take whatever summer vegetables were starting to turn ugly in the fridge, slice them, dice them and sauté them with ground meat, dump in a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, add a pinch of salt and a few basil leaves. Easy peasy. Since everyone in New Jersey grew zucchini, the first ciambotta I ever ate featured zucchini, more zucchini and nothing but zucchini.
EEEEEEE. Midgeee, questo non e ciambotta. I got my hand slapped by Santina the butcher when I ordered carne macinato – ground meat – and she asked what I was making. I got my head smacked by every other elder who I asked about ciambotta. But, I swear my mother or grandmother or someone always added ground meat.
Simply put, ciambotta is a beautiful blend of fresh – not almost rotting in the fridge – vegetables. Zucchini, green beans and eggplant are pleantiful now. Carrots spill over in the market with fresh white onions and tomatoes. I add tomatoes but my cousin and ace cook Carmella Fusco didn’t and her ciambotta was magic.
The trick I have learned here in Pontelandolfo about cooking some vegetables is to not add any liquid. The vegetables have all the liquid you need. Put a nice thick layer of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a pan and add the vegetables in order of how long they take to cook. I always start with the onions, then toss in carrot slices, then add the beans, zucchini and eggplant. Rats, Jack hates eggplant – he puts it in the ‘tofu category’. Don’t tell him that the perfectly formed cubes are eggplant. I toss in so little salt that it doesn’t count and add a handful of crushed fennel seeds. Note: No added liquid like that can of squashed tomatoes that I used to use. The vegetables do have enough liquid to create their own sauce. Also, I’m the only one that seems to add carrots to the mix. Yummy.
I can not tell too many lies – I often still add ground meat to the onions and when it is brown add the vegetables. I also often dice up fresh tomatoes and toss them in too.
Carmella’s Spaghetti with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers
When cousin Carmella sends me a “WhatsApp” text that says –Venite a pranza oggi? I always quickly respond with a SI! Carmella is a world class cook and lunch at her house might be the simplest of ingredients but they are always tossed together delectably. Check out Carmella’s cooking on her Facebook Page A Pranza dalla Nonna.
Today we had another variation on the zucchini theme, Spaghetti with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers. Fresh, local ingredients easily tossed together and delicious. Zucchini flowers, zucchini, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, hot pepper, spaghetti and pecorino cheese round out the list of ingredients. (You lucky New Jerseyans who belong to a CSA like Hillsborough’s fabulous Martenette Farmshave access to lots of zucchini and zucchini flowers this time of year.)
As I was slowing chewing my spaghetti, I asked Carmella her secret. Simplicity is the secret. She cut the flowers into little pieces. They added great orange color to the pasta. A few cloves of garlic were chopped and after cutting a zucchini in quarters it was thinly sliced. She put a walloping helping of olive oil in the pan – it thickly covered the pan – and added the garlic. She let that sizzle for a second and then added the zucchini and flowers. Next came a tazzino – espresso cup of water – or two fingers in a Nutella glass – and salt. The veggies cook until the water has evaporated and then they sauté for a couple of minutes more.
At this point the salted spaghetti water should also be on the stove. Cook the spaghetti as you normally would. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it directly to the pot that has the oil and sautéed zucchini. Carmella said, saltare in patella. Toss it and let it cook a wee pit in the pan. At this point she also added a hint of hot pepper and freshly grated pecorino cheese.
That was our primo piatto! Zucchini heaven!
(Carmella is one of the cooks who opens her home for the Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfoprogram. Interested? Message me.)
Saturday, September 3 to Saturday, September 10, 2016
Join us for the Second Session of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo
The May 2016 cooking classes were a smash hit. The Pontelandolfo women who lovingly opened their homes to American women this spring want to do it again! They hope women from all over the world will come to love their little village. Don’t think about it – just come and live the life of a Southern Italian.
The May video says it all better than I can –
Transportation from the Benevento Train Station to Pontelandolfo
7 nights, single room, with television, refrigerator, morning caffè and coronetto. Five rooms in this cute B&B have private baths. A two room suite share a bath. Il Castello
Welcoming apertivo and snacks in a local bar. All the cooks will be there!
Sunday Pranza (lunch)
5 Cooking Classes with local cooks culminating in eating with the families. Each pranza is complete with first and second courses, local wine, dessert, after dinner drink, coffee and conversation!
English Speaking Translator for all classes and events. Translators in other languages can be made available for a group of 5 or more.
Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner
Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products and other activities.