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!

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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.

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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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.

Prosciutto Crudo – Cooking in Pontelandolfo

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 –

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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, 2017   Limited to 8 People

For more information leave a comment!

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo II

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 –

Included Highlights:

  • 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.
  • Excursion to Altilia Roman Ruins   http://www.sepino-altilia.it/
  • Walking Tour of Historical Pontelandolfo – http://www.pontelandolfo1861.it/
  • Excursion to the museums and shops of Benevento
  • Transportation to a different local restaurant each night.
  • Apron
  • Written recipes in English. (If a group is not English speaking other translations can be arranged.)

This culinary adventure is limited to 10 people.  We have a 5-person minimum.

This adventure wouldn’t happen without the commitment and support of Pontelandolfo Città Martire Associazione Culturale and il Sindaco Gianfranco Rinaldi.

Air Emirates has had some terrific sales from JFK – New York to Milan!  We booked last year two seats for $900 – $450 a piece!  Keep an eye on their sales.

Air Meridiana flies from JFK directly to Naples!  It is relatively inexpensive.

Contact me via the comments section for particulars and with any questions, thoughts or just to say hi.

Ci Vediamo!