When my nonna told stories about life in Pontelandolfo she often mentioned the fountains. There is a massive one in the main piazza but there are others scattered among the hills. Some of these fountains date back to Roman times. These fountains were a hub for gossip, doing laundry, getting a quick drink on a hot day and gathering water to drink, cook with and wash in. For generations, mountain spring water has run through ancient pipes and spurted out into jugs that were carried home.
The fountains still exist – but there is a new kid in town! This year when we drove into the center of Pontelandolfo we noticed this big stainless steel box – Acquaself – and a bunch of people hanging around with plastic bottles. Holy smokes – they are getting water! It costs only €.05 a liter for spring water – sparkling or plain. Oh no, I thought, yet another rural ritual blown out of the water.
Years ago, Jack joined Mario Mancini and went up into the mountains to one of five or six ancient fountains. Mario, a foodie and mountain gatherer, knew where to take his bottles to get the best tasting water. They drove miles away from the village center and what did they find – other men filing bottles. Jack was flabbergasted when one of the men turned to him and said in English – where are you from – “New Jersey” – “Me too – Livingston”! That is the magic that happens around the fountain.
The Pontelandolfo main fountain has been a meeting place, photo op and life blood of the community. In the summer kids fill water balloons from the constantly flowing spring water. When that happens I run in the other direction – cross fire can be pretty wet. Can Acauself – a stainless steel box – really replace all that? Interesting question. I’ve gone for our water – I mean .05 for a litter of sparkling water – and chatted with folks who were filling their bottles. Maybe the conversation will continue at the box but I can’t see anyone doing their laundry. The talented Annalaura Iacovella will explain how Acquaself works – so those of you who speak Italian can test your skills – those of you who don’t can read the titles. Happy mineral water to you.
Fava beans are sprouting in everyone’s gardens! Yea, these protein filled little fellows make a yummy dinner. Last year, when the fava beans kept gracing my doorway, it was the first time that I had ever seen a fresh one. Well, maybe I did when nonna was alive and had the garden the size of a campo di calcio (soccer field) – but I don’t remember.
Seriously, this is a question that merits exploration. How many bags of fava beans are there in Pontelandolfo? When people pop in after pranza for caffè they usually bring something to share – like what ever is growing in the garden or was baked that morning. Now me, I like the “what was baked” this morning – no fuss, no muss, just yummy delight. My neighbor, Zia Vittoria, has an incredible garden. It is chock full of every vegetable you could possibly imagine – including fava beans.
Yet, as other women pop in to visit Zia Vittoria, so do giant bags of fava beans. H’mm when women visited these women they too brought fava beans. One day it hit me. What if there was really only a finite number of bags of fava beans and in any given span of two days the same 15 bags got re-gifted from house to house.
The bags stop here! Well, when a bag appears on my door step I don’t re-gift it. I say “guess whose coming to dinner.” Last year Mr. Fava came often. The top picture is of my first bag of this season. I pulled out the colander, a knife and a bag for the compost pile. The sky was blue and I cheerily began popping beans out of the pod.
So there I am shelling beans and wondering how I was going to cook them when my nipote (Italian for any kid in your family that you are related to and older than) popped by, reached into the bag, ripped open the pod and tossed the beans in his mouth. RAW! Who knew! I was forced to try it – I mean I’ll taste just about anything. The bean was sweetly good and obviously picked this morning. I discovered that the day they are picked they are deleeeeesh as a salad – tossed with tuna or just a few slices of onion or whatever you can imagine. That is also an abundantly easy lunch or dinner.
I kept at the de-podding for a while. My brain taking journeys back to the early seventies when with my long hair braided, I shelled beans, baked bread, grew sprouts and didn’t inhale. It seems to me that it used to be fun. This ain’t fun but it is worthwhile.
One of the things I remembered while I was mindlessly popping beans, was an article in the New York Times that I read last year. A snotty assed food writer had gone to Rome. ordered fava beans in a restaurant and was appalled that they weren’t peeled! I had no idea what the hell Miss little anal retentive was talking about. In all the homes I’ve visited for pranza, all the fava bean stew, soup, frittata I’ve eaten, no one peeled off the outer shell. I was taught to par- boil the beans before creating the dish. Apparently, after this par-boiling part you can take off the outer shell. Hell lady, I just spent an hour popping pods and now you want me to spend two hours popping par-boiled beans?
I caved and decided to try it. After boiling the beans and dumping them in the ever faithful colander, I burnt my fingers trying to pop them out of their little shells. What? Wait till they cool? What a thought! Ten minutes is the maximum of waiting time I give anything. I popped a few and tasted them. Damn, it did make a taste difference. They tasted sweeter and less meaty than they do with the shells on. I looked at the bowl of about a pazillion beans and I looked at Jack. He gave me the “are you crazy” look – no one here takes the shells off. When in Rome……
Without skinning the par-boiled beans, I made a simple recipe. First I sautéd a couple of large onions in local olive oil, toss in cubes of pancetta and let that all get caramelized and crispy. I always buy un etto of cubed pancetta – 100 grams – so that is probably what I used. H’mm, from all the veggie tops and pieces I had languishing around, I made vegetable broth yesterday. I tossed some broth in the pan, added the beans, a dollop of red wine – this is Italy – and let it simmer. That and crusty bread made a perfect “cena.”
Before I ventured into Alimentari De Angelis, our local salumeria for the first time alone, I stood outside and took a breath. My heart was pounding. Would I remember all the Italian I needed to buy mortadella or prosciutto or – well anything? Etto? Cento grammi – was that close to 1/4 pound? Theatre training kicks in – I review my lines – visualize my actions – think about what I was doing before I went through the door and said, “Vorrei un etto di – – Un etto of what – eeeeeeech -here is where I point at the case and resist saying “that salami looking stuff”. I know these words. I eat these words – wait – I didn’t say that right.
Now you are thinking – it is just a store in a small Italian village – stop with the dramatics. You’re right. But in this village everyone knows everyone else. I can’t embarrass generations of Guerreras and Sollas. I notice the woman on the bench near the store staring at me. I go in. The small shop – about 8X10 – was crammed full of just about anything you needed to create a quick scrumptious meal. Packets of pasta, a few round loaves of bread, rice, canned good, juice, paper plates, – you get the picture.
The three people in front of the meat counter turned as I pushed aside the beaded curtain, entered and said “boun giorno.” (Everyone says boun giorno every time they enter a shop – most times the folks in the shop echo an answer.) While I was waiting for my turn, the other customers and I stood close together in the jammed packed shop. This was a good thing. I could see and hear how they interacted with the shop’s owner, Pierina De Angelis. After all, we were all here for what was found in the refrigerator case – mortadella, prosciutto, salami di Milano, salami di Napoli …..
Soon it was my turn – I noticed a price list taped to the refrigerated display case and had memorized it. How could everything be un euro or un euro e 20 centesimi per un etto? Cheap great meats – how did I know the cold cuts were great? My cousin and world’s greatest cook, Carmela Mancini, shopped here.
“Vorrei un etto di mortadella, per favore.” The blonde Pierina standing by the old fashioned counter smiled and asked me where I was from – in Italian of course. Damn, was my italian so bad that she pegged me right away as an outsider? That happens to me a lot. I told her I was from New Jersey and before I knew it we were having a simple conversation and she discovered where I was from, who I was related to and how long I was staying! She made me feel comfortable and not embarrassed by my accent. I wanted to be her friend for life! OK, now it is time to order – guess what – I forgot the entire product list that I had memorized. Ugggg. We started with the mortadella.
If you haven’t had great mortadella – but only the crap we get in the USA super markets – you haven’t tasted the cold cut that makes you keep coming back and buying more! As a matter of fact, even though my cholesterol rises when ever I think of mortadella, I bought the yummy meats about every other day.
Starting in about 1899 Americans were calling anything made of pork parts and stuffed in a casing bologne/baloney. Maybe manufacturers thought they could trick folks with limited taste buds into buying the stuff thinking it was like Mortadella – a famous culinary tradition of Bologna, Italy.
Mortadella di Bologna starts with finely ground pork, usually the lesser cuts of meat that are not used for other types of sausage. In fact Mortadella is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Italian pig farmers as nothing edible on the pig is wasted. This ground meat is mixed with a high quality fat (usually from the throat) and a blend of salt, white pepper, peppercorns, coriander, anise, pieces of pistachio and wine. The mixture is then stuffed into a beef or pork casing depending upon the size of the sausage and cooked according to weight. After cooking mortadella is left to cool in order to stabilize the sausage and give it firmness.
After the first week of repeated stops at her shop, Pierina could almost guess my order. Un etto di mortadella for me and due cento grammi di salami for Jack. Jack experimented with the various types of salami and couldn’t decide which he liked best. Bottom line? It was all wonderful.
Alimentari De Angelis has been in Pierina De Angelis’ family for generations. She and her husband Antonio Santo Pietro have run it for a long time. I was saddened to hear that they will be closing the shop this fall. They are moving on toward retirement. Boy, do I hope that someone as nice and who sells productsjust as good steps in to fill the gastronomic void.