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

Good Eats at Rome Train Station

Roma Stazione Termini has always been a drudge for me. Drag the suitcases, muscle through the crowds, strain to see what track we needed and if we were hungry, tired and waiting a while, going a bit outside the station to a steak house. (There is a wooden cow that invites you in and the beef is actually good.) Plus there are chairs! Now Roma Termini has a new place to sit, people watch and eat –Il Mercato Centrale Roma.  

No Kids With Markers – Actual Signage

Schlepping our suitcases down the right side of the station – through the department stores and shops – we found the entrance to Il Mercato.
Actually, having to wade through cramped shops isn’t the most comfortable approach to Il Mercato. Leaving the station and walking outside around the block would have been easier. When we saw the funky sign, we knew we were in for a treat. Giggles bubbled up and we entered the hall.

WOW! Being there at an off peak eating time, we were able to see the space in all of its utilitarian grandeur. There is a lot to see – seventeen food stalls, one restaurant, one pizzeria, one beer vendor and one large coffee bar. The restaurant, La Tavola, is designed for those who don’t want to wander around. It can be found one level up from the ground floor. Also, there is additional seating on the third level. (Note – what we would call the first floor is Piano Terra, second – Primo Piano, – third – Second Piano.) It was fun strolling past the stalls tempting us with interesting things to eat, cook with or grab for gifts. Even better was sniffing all of the great scents of Italian home style cooking. We grabbed two seats ordered drinks from the friendly cameriere, Jack sat with the luggage and I zapped from stall to stall taking it all in.

Love the scribble logo that is everywhere.

I roamed trying to decide what to eat first – we had three hours. Yup, it is one giant food court. Yup, it looks like a food court in a high end mall or in Grand Central Station NYC. Yup, everything we tried tasted pretty good. Unlike the tourist restaurants in places like Florence or Rome or Venice – the quality wasn’t dumbed down for out of towners.

Being ace detectives we uncovered an amazing truth as to why it didn’t seem dumbed down for tourists – Italians seemed to be the principal patrons! We saw folks coming in off the street for a quick lunch. Folks opening briefcases, grabbing food and having impromptu meetings. And yes, we did see people like us with suitcases. Even though we had been warned by Pontelandolfese that the place was for tourists only, our observation led us to disagree. First of all, they didn’t try to gouge us with super inflated prices. It is Rome so prices were higher than our village, however, the prices were better than we have found in Manhattan. Since we had a few hours to kill we each started with an obscenely large cappuccino – the four cup cappuccissimo cost €7 and took us about 45 minutes to drink. It was a ridiculous huge accompaniment for our €1.20 cream filled brioche. After walking that off, we rallied for lunch. I jotted down some prices. A filling plate of Pasta Carbonara €8, glass of white wine €5, and a small bottle of water €1.50. Have I mentioned they also had Free wifi for everyone? Have I mentioned gelato?

During the lunch crush, it was a really a crush, we didn’t feel comfortable hogging the seats. Too many folks needed a place to plop and eat. Having hoarded seats for about two hours, we felt guilty. When our lunch plates were empty, we gave up our chairs and ventured back to the main part of the station. This September when we head back home from studying Italian in Sardegna, we will drag our sand filled suitcases through the station and return!

Ci vediamo! Perhaps we will see you soon in Sardegna!

PS – Message me at info@nonnasmulberrytree.com and check out the cool opportunity to study Italian in Alghero, Sardegna! €1500 for two full weeks of classes, cultural activities, social events and HOUSING! Cheap and wonderful. September 28 – October 12 at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.

Buon Anno da Sesto Senso!

Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!   2018 seems to have galloped along the road of life bringing lots of good news, great friends and new vistas to explore.   Now, 2019 is guaranteed to be incredible – granting all of us health, happiness and good cheer.

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Jack and Midge glad to be part of the New Year’s party.

We greeted 2019 with family, friends, a bazillion courses of seafood, music, dancing and fireworks at Sesto Senso!  This great local restaurant tucked in a corner of Campolattaro (BN) tossed a rocking party.  Unlike the New Year’s Eve parties we have gone to in the states, the crowd featured party goers of literally all ages.  Babes in strollers to great grandparents danced to traditional music and rock and roll.  No one seemed to mind the wee ones giggling in their flouncy finery, twirling throughout the tables.

This is the first time we have ventured out on New Year’s Eve.  Last year we dined with family and friends too, but in our house and then raced to the Pontelandolfo Piazza to see the requisite midnight fireworks.  Not knowing what to expect, I encouraged our house guests Cindy and Les, my LA niece Alessandra and Pontelandolfo niece Annarita to come along for the ride.

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Alex and Annarita kept the wine and the laughter flowing.

 

The first hint that this was going to be a party that required our due diligence and staying power was the menu –

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The second hint included countless wine bottles that arrived full and seemed to empty and get replaced in nano-seconds.  Thank God we got to dance between courses.

The apertivo plates – lots of different fish but of course but I can’t remember what – were brought in to a musical fanfare!  Damn, this is just the apertivo tasting?  How will we get through all the courses?  We put on our big girl appetites and somehow we did.

Everything was presented so beautifully that for a scant moment we just stared, not wanting a fork to damage the look.

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Croccheta di Baccala – Almost too cute to eat.

At midnight we hadn’t quite made it through the menu, but that didn’t stop the bottles of prosecco from popping and the fireworks to start blaring.  We all raced out side to see the display.  Oooing and aaaahhhhhing I realized that the restaurant had organized the pyrotechnics. What a button to put on a great evening. But wait, we have more to eat – the night isn’t over!

Cotechino a pork based sausage and lentils are a traditional Italian New Year’s Eve course.  The lentils represent money that will be coming your way in the upcoming year.  We scarfed down those lentils – I actually made more the next day.  I wonder how many pounds of lentils I need to eat to get the cash for first class plane tickets??

2019 is firmly ensconced in our lives.  For each of us, that means it is time for a new adventure.  In 2019  I’ll be entering my seventh decade – gulp – my second act needs to be upgraded to include a chorus of triple threat actors to help me pull off my ongoing later scenes.  Hit me with my light – I’m ready for it!

Buona Fortuna!

Ci vediamo

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Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program.  Check it out!  Click Here.

Fried Basil

Some days it is almost spring-like.  Others are so freakin’ cold that I want to stay under the covers.  On those winsome warm October days, I have been walking and weeping over all those fresh garden herbs that are now just sticks of their former selves.  It seems like only a moment ago, I was savoring something unique – fried basil!

One hot summer day, as she often does Zia Victoria arrived with a plate of fried something or other.  (We are blessed to live on a working farm next door to a contadina who is a great cook and likes to share.).  I guessed that it was probably zucchini or eggplant or zucchini flowers or even just little savory bits of fried dough.  She looked at me, I looked at her and we both looked at the plate.  Steam was still rising off these narrow lightly battered yummies.  Wait – why is green peaking out?  What is this stuff?  She wouldn’t answer and told me to taste it. Wow, it was something so much better than I expected. Fried basil leaves – who knew you could do this.  Never in a million years would I have ever thought of frying giant leaves of basil! When basil overruns the garden most of us pick the leaves, toss them in a Cuisinart with oil, garlic and some type of nut.  The resulting pesto gets popped in the freezer for a hint of summer in the winter. Well that’s a great activity. But during the summer when the plants are creeping skyward full of leaves, why not just eat the leaves? Fresh basil has its own interesting taste a little sweet, a little bitey, a little perfect. When it’s married with a very fine coating of a simple batter – she told me it was just flour, eggs and milk – it becomes something wonderful.  I tried it with GIANT basil leaves – small ones turn to mush -seltzer and flour – kind of like a tempora – and that worked too.  The oil was really hot and they were done in a second.

Fried Basil

Zia Vittoria, my nonna and most of the elders in Pontelandolfo use everything they grow.  No part of an edible plant or animal gets tossed. (Remember my story on pig parts and weeds?)  As I was scoffing down this great snack or appetizer, the crunchy unique taste sent me back in time to 1950s Flagtown.  Growing up – nothing was wasted. Before anyone was allowed to cut the lawn, we had to scavenge for young dandelions.  Tossed in a salad, sautéed with onion or eaten with cheese and chunky bread the green was something to forage and enjoy.  Wild herbs like camomile and fennel were found in the nearby woods and hung to dry.  As a kid, I hated this stoop labor.  Cripes, I wanted to be rich enough to just go buy the freakin’ stuff.  In my artsy hippy dippy days, I baked my own bread, foraged and thought how I was an earth mamma.  I don’t know when it happened but one day, I found myself throwing out unopened food that had rotted in my refrigerator and not giving it a second thought.  As I worked more and more, this careless tossing became a regular thing. I would casually toss out clothes that no longer fit or I felt fugly in.  Next thing I knew, I was one of those conspicuous consumption folks who had to have….

Here we are in our second – or is it third – act and I’ve come full circle. I’m living on a working farm, eating animal parts that most people stick up their noses at and realizing that the Nonnas and the Zias of the world have the right idea.  Don’t waste a thing.  Share when you have an abundance and don’t race around buying what you don’t bloody well need.

Damn, how could all that come from tasting a simple dish like a fried basil leaf?

Ci vediamo!


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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.

cichategli 2 carmella

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.

cicategli factory

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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