Creamy Yummy Zucchini

First a pal stopped by to say hi and offer me some garden goodness – zucchini just picked.  Then my neighbor Zia Vittoria walked in with an apron full of – you guessed it – zucchini just picked.  Not wanting to be ungrateful for the bounty, I hugged each zucchini carrier and said “I can’t wait to cook this.”  Then I walked into my kitchen and added the zucchini to the growing pile on the counter.  “Jack,” I bellowed, “tonight all we are eating is zucchini.”

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Like an early explorer, I searched high and low for yet another way to use this abundance of zucchini.  Nope, no more batter fried zucchini.  Nah, not interested in zucchini bread.  Yuck, I have done the turn it into spaghetti strands and pretend it is full of carbs.  Boing!  Then I remembered I had read a super easy and great looking recipe on FaceBook.

You know how people like recipe pages on FaceBook, you read them for a nano second and then can never find them again?  That really, hasn’t happened to you?  I had remembered seeing this recipe liked by a couple of foodie friends. It required tossing the zucchini with eggs.  Not a scrambled egg dish or a frittata or an omelet but a creamy yummy looking zucchini dish.  Could I find the recipe again?  Did I remember the name?  Did I remember the names of the foodies who liked the page?  NO!

I did remember the pictures!  Paper thin slices of zucchini in a frying pan and a hand pouring some melted butter and olive oil on them. A pot of broth on the stove and a scoop. Egg scrambled with parsley. A half a lemon being squeezed.  Parmesan cheese.  Now, what order were those pictures in???

Off I went to try to recreate the creamy yummy zucchini recipe. Yup, I made some mistakes, but that made the evening interesting.  I would have taken pictures but my hands were busy.

  1. Cut thin slices of the zucchini – leaving the skin on for the cool green color.
  2. Dump the slices in a frying pan.
  3. Melt a wee bit of butter and add a wee bit of olive oil. Then toss this over the top of the zucchini and mix it up. My first mistake was too much oil and butter.  When the zucchini cooked down there was too much liquid .  A little amount is plenty.
  4. Sauté the zucchini for a wee bit and had about 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Again, I screwed up with my “more is always better” mindset.  I used about 1 cup and had to drain the soggy things.
  5. When the zucchini is almost cooked, toss on some fresh ground pepper and salt.
  6. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon and strain out the pits and pulp.
  7. Beat 2 eggs with thinly chopped parsley.  For sure only 2 eggs – the picture showed two yolks. When it is frothy, toss in the lemon. I thought that the lemon would make it curdle or do something weird.  But it didn’t.
  8. Think spaghetti carbonara!  Stir the beaten egg, parsley and lemon mixture into the cooked zucchini. Make sure there is not a lot of extra liquid! Remember my over liquid mistakes.  How did I rectify it?  I made a second batch with hardly any liquid. Two days later I made a third batch – yes I am binging on this dish.  Thinking outside the box, I got out the colander, tossed the cooked zucchini in it and let it totally drain. Then I put it back in the frying pan and added the egg mixture.  Voila!  It was magic.
  9. Now, toss a healthy handful of Parmesan cheese into the mixture and serve.

I don’t have a picture.  I know it sounds strange – but I was in comfort food heaven.  It was the Mac and Cheese of vegetables and didn’t have hardly any bad stuff in it.  Why am I writing this?  So that I remember what I did and can make it again tonight, next week and whenever I want Creamy Yummy Zucchini.

Ci Vediamo!

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San Salvo Marina

The magic of being the only person swimming in the clear Adriatic Sea is not lost on me. I feel like I’ve found a secret place that allows me to be me, frolicking like a dolphin under the noonday sun. Standing in the warm water, I look west past the ancient hilltop towns to snow capped mountains touching the clouds. The only sound I hear is water lapping on the shore. Welcome to San Salvo Marina at lunch time!

For the last 4 years, always in June, Jack and I have rented apartments here. We have now rented for the second time a two bedroom apartment – the kitchen is the only other room -with a large 3rd story balcony that gives us a wedge of a sea view and all modern appliances for €550 a week. (About $645.) We take advantage of off season rates, great summer weather and very few beach goers. Once school is out, this place will be packed and prices will escalate. The second week in June is perfect. Noon until 3:00’ish, when the few families who are here have left for lunch and a snooze, it is even more perfect.

I must admit, living in low costing Pontelandolfo has caused me to get shell shocked at even off season beach town prices. What, I bellowed one night after staring at the ocean and drinking at Beat Cafe, €7 for one glass of house wine and an aperol spritz? It would be less than half that at home. Jack reminded me that we would pay double that at the Jersey Shore. Oh, I sulked, OK I will try not to whine about prices MUCH.

Why San Salvo Marina? It is only about an hour and a half away from Pontelandolfo – which makes going to the beach an easy drive. If I am in a car for more than 2 hours, I become meaner than the wicked witch of the west. Having lived in Asbury Park and known the Jersey Shore intimately, I can say unequivocally that I loathed the honky took of places like Seaside Heights and loved the kinder gentler feeling of Ocean Grove or Sea Girt. San Salvo Marina has a wonderful lungomare – seafront promenade that includes closing off the adjacent street to vehicular traffic. It is a great place to stroll after dinner. The beachfront is full of medium rise condos that look like they have been built in the last 15 or so years. New ones keep popping up. That said, it doesn’t feel cramped and crowded. There is green space between buildings and a park between the buildings and the seafront.

We walk about 5 blocks from our apartment to the beach front stand we like. This year I GULPED when it cost me €75 to rent our spot near the sea for 7 days – yeah, yeah it was less than €13 a day but still. We got our two lounge chairs, table and giant umbrella set up by the attendant and nestled in for a seaside view and ahhhhh moment. €13 pppfffew – is niente, nada, nothing for this.

Being foodies, we also like San Salvo for its restaurants and proximity to our very favorite seafood restaurant – Il Corsaro Della Baia Azzurra in Porto Vasto. When we arrived this week, the first thing we did after lugging all the crap from the car and getting organized was walk the half block toward, Ristorante Al Metro. We were salivating as we thought of their riffs on local Abruzzo food and their industrial style modern and elegant dining room. As we started to cross the street this teeny tiny little girl – I found out later she was 6 but soon to be 7 – stopped Jack and was prattling away. Sensing he didn’t have a clue about what she was saying, I walked up to them. She had handed him a flier for Risto Pizza da Bocconcino, the corner joint we had just passed, and was delivering a marketing pitch that was freakin’ perfect. We thanked her, I put the flier in my purse and we continued on to Al Metro – which was now closed!!!!! We went back, found the girl and let her guide us into her dad’s Risto Pizza da Bocconcino. After praising her to her pop we took seats outdoors in a comfortable space and had a pretty decent but €40 lunch. OK, I’LL STOP WHINING SOON ABOUT PRICES. I had grilled cod, pickled onions and sautéed spinach. Jack had – I don’t remember – but we did share a bottle of a great Abruzzese white wine and mineral water. Since we were late eaters, the place was cleared out by the time we finished. Out came the home made limoncello, caffè and conversation. The owner sat with us and we argued about politics. He was the first Italian I have ever met that didn’t think the current president of the USA was a putz. He liked his brazen style! Let the arguments begin! Putting politics aside, we enjoyed ourselves and will go back.

One night we decided to drive the strip and look for a new place to dine. We discovered Medusa Ristorante Pizzeria on the very active Via Magellano. We agreed – an anomaly – that we had eaten the best mussels we have ever had. Their Cozze Marinate was full a chunks of garlic and parsely that added to the perfectly braised mussels. Yummy. We each had a fresh fish dish, side of veggies, mineral water and coffee for €54 – oh yeah there was that bottle of Abruzzese wine too.

Can we talk about gelato??? Ai 3 Scalini makes and serves the best gelato I have had in forever. It is fortuitous that it is a short half block from Medusa Ristorante! We had no choice – really Jack made me go there kicking and screaming down the street. The strawberry gelato reminds me of the wild strawberries of my youth. OMG – the chocolate is so full of chocolate that Belgium chocolates pale by comparison. We vowed we would only go once this week. But I’m thinking if I don’t eat breakfast or lunch…

I’ve got to stop talking about food. Time to stare at the sea, thank Vodafone for the cheap data plan that lets me turn my phone into a hot spot, and hmm it’s 6:30 PM here maybe walk to a seaside bar for an overpriced Aperol Spritz.

Ci Vediamo

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Tagliatelle and Rock n Roll

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Students Singing to their Pasta

The first time I walked into Maria Di Ciero’s kitchen, I realized I wasn’t walking.  I was bopping and rocking to the music that was as much a part of her kitchen as fresh fruits, vegetables and local meats.   While Maria kneaded and rolled her way through a batch of tagliatelle and instructed us in Southern Italian cooking, music filled the air.  What happens in Pontelandolfo stays in Pontelandolfo – but some of the visiting women played air guitar with rolling pins and spatulas.

Maria is  part of the creative duo that created “Perugini Franco Marcelleria Moderna.”   She and her husband,  Franco Perugini, have a butcher shop committed to selling local meats, developing recipes for sausages – fresh and dried – and torcinelli.  Their torcinelli, sono fatti con budelline di agnello (made with lamb intestines), is served in restaurants all through the province.  Torcinelli is a regional delicacy and theirs is top-notch.

Even though Maria works in the butcher shop, she still makes lunch for her extended family.  One of the recipes that she shares with the folks who participate in Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is her tagliatelle.  Take lots of grovin’ music, flour, eggs and a crazy fun filled kitchen and you get golden tagliatelle to sing about.

The ingredients are simply – 1.5 kilo semolina; 14 eggs – you use one egg per person you are feeding and she averages 14 people a day; and a little salt.

The first thing Maria did was plunk a HUGE pasta board down on the table.  It has a lip on one end so that it hooks itself to the table and doesn’t wiggle and jiggle as you dance your way through kneading and rolling.

Here are the steps:

  1. Dump the flour into a pile on the wooden board,
  2. Using your hands dig out the center and make a bowl out of the flour.
  3. Crack open the eggs and dump whole eggs in the center of the flour. She does this with one hand and it looks seamless.  I did it with one hand and got egg on my sleeve, the table and everywhere but the flour bowl.egg flour
  4. Scramble the eggs.  My question was, why couldn’t I scramble them in a bowl and then dump them into the flour.  Everyone in the room looked at me like I was the devil’s spawn.
  5. Gradually pull flour into the center with a fork.  You are making the moist dough – this is not a quick process and can be messy.  Well, when I did it there was a mess – my flour needed a little Dutch boy to plug the dike. Everyone else managed easily.
  6. Then start kneading by pushing away and pulling towards you. She used the heel of her hands and the dough folded over itself and made a little smiley face.
  7. If the dough is too stiff add a little water.  Small eggs could be the reason the moisture to flour ratio is dry.
  8. Ouch, ugh, push, pull – really work the dough with your shoulders and your back.  Maria doesn’t need a gym – she cooks!
  9. Too much to handle? Cut the dough into smaller hunks. Let one hunk rest and work another. Actually, she said this is the better way to do it.
  10. Knead for a minimum of 15 minutes. You cannot over knead.  When your hands become warmer it is easier to work pasta. Fold and push, push and fold, dance to the rhythm of the flour.
  11. When you work on it, pay attention to wrinkles and folds. Make it into a ball and at the same time take all creases out.
  12. Do not cry.  Do not admit you don’t have the stamina of an Italian homemaker.  Do not whine.  Drink wine and knead.
  13. It is done when you can feel that it is done – no holes, no strings. It is completely smooth.
  14. When one hunk is done wrap in plastic to keep the moisture in.
  15. Let dough rest a minimum of 1/2 hour.
  16. Take off your shoes, rub your feet and have another glass of wine.

Rolling the dough:

  1. Put a clean cotton cloth down somewhere to hold and dry the pasta on. Maria has another huge board that she balances between two chairs in front of a grand window.  Draped in a tablecloth, the pasta alter waits for an offering.
  2. Roll out the dough into a circle. Constantly rotating it and using your hands from the center out  – pushing on the dowel.  Yes, a dowel.  A really long dowel was used for this and Maria’s hands raced from the center to the ends as she rolled.  Her hands were cupped and really spread the dough on the rolling pin.IMG_6291
  3. The dough is ready when it is almost transparent.  She made us hold it up to see if we could do shadow puppets behind it.  It was fun and relaxed our hand muscles.
  4. Let big circle rest for about 10 minutes.  This is a good time to sneak outside of her house and stare at the mountains.
  5. Use a spirone– pastry cutting and ravioli wheel. Cut the pasta into thin strips. No problem if they’re not the same size exactly.  This is home-made not precision machine made pasta.
  6. You can use the dough and wheel to cut smaller pieces – pinch the center and voilà you have a bow tie pasta.
  7. Or if you are in the mood for a hearty dish – cut it wider for lasagna.
  8. Dry whatever pasta you made on the cotton cloth.

This pasta can be frozen.  Maria makes huge batches – I wonder why???  Oh yeah, she works and runs home to make a huge lunch.  If you freeze the pasta do not defrost it.  Just put the frozen pasta in the boiling water.

That day, we made a simple pesto – that allowed us to really taste the pasta. With a mortar and pestle we smashed together fresh basil, olive oil, garlic and pignoli nuts.  Walnuts are great to use too.  (This lazy author would probably pull out my food processor!)

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Yummy!  Come play with us!  

We still have some spots left in our September 8-15th and May 12 – 19th

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo weeks!  

You too can soon be dancing and cooking in Maria’s kitchen.

 E-mail info@nonnasmulberrytree.com for more information.

Ci Vediamo!

Cavatelli with Carmela

Mario Carmella

Walking into the house Carmela Fusco shares with her husband – ace mushroom harvestor, Mario Mancini, and her family, the first thing the one notices is a petite elderly woman sitting next to an open fire.  Zia Peppinella, Carmela’s mom, lives with the family.  This sense of family and great outpouring of love make a trip to Carmela’s a wee bit like going back in time to a place where we all felt loved and safe.  It is not unusual in Southern Italy for multiple generations of a family to live, work and share their lives together.  That is something that I remember growing up in rural New Jersey – unfortunately it seems to have ended with my generation.

Carmela Fusco is a Pontelandolfese through and through.  As passionate about her home town as she is her cooking, Carmella was willing to leave it behind and help advance her husband’s career by moving to Milan.  With a degree in primary education and an experienced teacher, she looked at the Milan assignment as a culinary adventure.  She had the opportunity to explore and embrace the fare of Northern Italy! During her 13 years there, her spontaneity, smile and neighborliness insured her a circle of friends. Through them, she cultivated her appetite for cooking and explored the secrets of Milanese cuisine.

Back now in the village she loves, Carmela takes care of her large extended family.  Every day, in a kitchen filled with great smells and laughter, Carmela cooks lunch for a minimum of eleven people!  She looks at that as an opportunity to further experiment and cultivate her devotion to cooking.

Carmela’s dishes are an interesting mixture of traditional Southern Italy cuisine, learned from her mom, and the best Milanese traditions. She shops daily for the freshest ingredients and is fortunate to have a husband who forages the mountains for truffles, mushrooms, spring asparagus and more.  You too can feel like you are invited to lunch – read her cooking hints on the Facebook page, A Pranzo Della Nonna!   Her motto is cooking with the heart is good for the soul too.

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Happy Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo Cooks & their Cicategli!

Carmella is one of the women who open their homes to those adventuresome foodies who visit our little village as part of the Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo project.  Cicategli is a pasta mainstay in Pontelandolfo.  Served with a thick meat sauce and lots of freshly grated  cheese it can a make any day a happy day.  My nonna’s cicategli sauce was made with pig’s feet and I still smile when I think of it.

Cicategli -Cavatelli Ingredients

Flour 0 and 00 – Fine and Extra fine.       Water as needed.

Before the class started, Carmella showed us the Cavatelli maker she bought that allows her to spin out enough pasta for 11 -15 people in about a half an hour.  We got excited about using it.  She smiled and put it away!  You will learn to make pasta the way my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me!

Boil the water. Carmella never uses cold water to make cavatelli.  As her mother before her, she discovered that when you make this pasta kneading hot water into the flour insures the cavatelli, while boiling, won’t stick to each other.  Also, after working the dough a long time, if you use cold water, you would have to continually put your fingers in water or the dough will be too dry.

Put 500 grams of each type of flour on the wooden pasta/bread board.  Carmella’s board was huge and is used almost daily.  We tossed around the idea of just using our American counter tops.  Carmella and Zia Peppinella looked at us, smiled and said try it!  But I knew in their heart of hearts we should all go buy a board.

Make a well in the middle of the flour.  While kneading, slowly add hot water to the flour.  Knead on the floured board until you want to toss the board at your husband.  Keep kneading and add flour – lots of flour.

Kneading

Using the heel of your hands – fold over each side of dough, add flour and do again.  She used up both bags of flour – 1000 grams and it still felt wet.  Knead about half an hour. Seriously, I kept sneaking a peak at my watch – we kneaded about half an hour.  No one got tired or else we refused to admit that our arms didn’t have the power of an Italian home cook!  We all kept kneading, talking and of course sipping wine!

The dough will tell you when it wants to be made into pasta.

That is not the wine talking – it is the dough talking. When you touch the dough, your fingers will come away dry.  Carmela said it was like testing a cake – when you put a knife or toothpick in a cake and it comes out dry – the cake is done.  If dough still sticks to your fingers add flour and knead.

Cut about 1 inch or a two finger width of dough off the kneaded loaf. Put that dough through pasta machine on number 1 two or three times. Or get out that trusty rolling pin and roll the dough thin, thin, thin.

Cut the thin sheet into 2-finger or 2-inch long strips.  Then cut the strip into about 1/4 – 1/2 inch slices.

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Using your fingers, pull the strip towards you – saying cicategli and then flick the rolled pasta away from you.  Sounds easy right?  We laughed at our mounds of flattened dough.

Carmella made us do it again and again and again. Hey!  We got it!  Thanks Carmella!  Start the 3 fingers just on the outside of the strip of dough and then roll back. Using three fingers you are pulling the dough towards yourself while saying cicategli.  It is important to the pasta gods that you say cicategli!

Now practice the two handed technique.  You have to feed your family at 1:30 and need to get these four million cavatelli done.  Carmella astounded us with her two handed technique.  She whipped that pasta out using both hands to roll and flick.  Who needs a machine!!

Put the finished cavatelli in one layer on a wooden board or cotton sheet to dry a little.

The dough will keep for 3 days in refrigerator or you can freeze it.  Making it with hot water allows you to freeze it for 3 months.  It is important to remember to defrost the cavatelli for two hours before you use it.

Carmella reminded us to never clean wooden boards with water.  Scrape the goop off the board with the flat back of knife.  Water gets in the wood and the board hates that. Make sure you wipe the board with dry rag.

Zia Giuseppina, Carmella’s mom looked at us all firmly and said, when you go back,you must continue to make pasta this way  or the traditions of our village will be lost.

She also noted, You have learned how to make cicategli now you must learn how to eat it! Cavatelli amano tante formaggio e sugo!   This type of pasta loves a lot of thick sauce and tons of grated cheese.

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After boiling the pasta we covered it with a hearty meat sauce and used the local hard sheep cheese.  Because you will love the sauce do not foget the Scarpetta – little shoe – a piece of crusted local bread used to clean your plate!  Let me tell you, each and every one of us cleaned our plates.

You too can Eat, Cook and Laugh in Carmela’s Kitchen!  There is one spot available for the September 2018 and 4 spots available for the May 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program.  Or you and a group of pals can contact me to set up your own dates.  Just e-mail info@nonnasmulberrytree.com.

Visit us on FaceBook or our Web-Site.

Ci Vediamo!

Midge

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Olives to Olive Oil

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.

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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.

My second thought is to simply go to the video –

Are you “jonesing” for a taste of our hometown olive oil?  Taste some during our 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo sessions for adventuresome cooks!

Ci Vediamo!

 

 

Cook, Eat, Laugh!

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.

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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.

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

May 19 -26 or September 8 – 15 2018

Limited to 8 people!

The Experience Features –

  • Transportation from the Benevento Train Station
  • 7 nights at B&B Il Castello
  • Welcoming apertivo and snacks.
  • 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.
  • Apron
  • 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!

Registration materials and financial information will be sent via e-mail to those that want to join the adventure.   info@nonnasmulberrytree.com 

Ci vediamo a Pontelandolfo!

Time travel through your taste buds


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.

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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.

 

You too can learn traditional Southern Italian cooking.  Join us.

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo May 19 -26 and September 8-15, 2018

For more information, send an email to info@nonnasmulberrytree.com.

Love Fish? – Il Corsaro della Baia Azzurra

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