Tagliatelle and Rock n Roll

marie pasta laugh

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!)


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!


More Zucchini Recipes.


The zucchine elf - Zia Vittoria!
The zucchine elf – Zia Vittoria!

Everyday it seems there is a mysterious bag, basket or pile of zucchini by my door.  These things must multiply like rabbits.  Last year, it seemed like I was chomping down on zucchini blossoms daily.  Bundles of fully formed zucchini didn’t appear because we were all too busy frying up the flowers – remember this post:  Fried Squash Blossoms     Don’t forget – all recipes are posted in the recipe section.  Look above the Tower Picture to find the tabs.


I thought I knew how to make giambotta!  Take whatever summer vegetables were starting to turn ugly in the fridge, slice them, dice them and sauté them with ground meat, dump in a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, add a pinch of salt and a few basil leaves.  Easy peasy.  Since everyone in New Jersey grew zucchini, the first giambotta I ever ate featured zucchini, more zucchini and nothing but zucchini.

EEEEEEE. Midgeee, questo non e ciambotta.  I got my hand slapped by Santina the butcher when I ordered carne macinato – ground meat – and she asked what I was making.  I got my head smacked by every other elder who I asked about giambotta.  But, I swear my mother or grandmother or someone always added ground meat.

Simply put, giambotta is a beautiful blend of fresh – not almost rotting in the fridge – vegetables.  Zucchini, green beans and eggplant are pleantiful now.  Carrots spill over in the market with fresh white onions and tomatoes.  I add tomatoes but my cousin and ace cook Carmella Fusco didn’t and her giambotta was magic.

The trick I have learned here in Pontelandolfo about cooking some vegetables is to not add any liquid.  The vegetables have all the liquid you need.  Put a nice thick layer of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a pan and add the vegetables in order of how long they take to cook. I always start with the onions, then toss in carrot slices, then add the beans, zucchini and eggplant.  Rats, Jack hates eggplant – he puts it in the ‘tofu category’.  Don’t tell him that the perfectly formed cubes are eggplant.  I toss in so little salt that it doesn’t count and add a handful of crushed fennel seeds.  Note:  No added liquid like that can of  squashed tomatoes that I used to use.  The vegetables do have enough liquid to create their own sauce.  Also, I’m the only one that seems to add carrots to the mix. Yummy.

I can not tell too many lies – I often still add ground meat to the onions and when it is brown add the vegetables.  I also often dice up fresh tomatoes and toss them in too.

Carmella’s Spaghetti with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers

When cousin Carmella sends me a “WhatsApp” text that says –Venite a pranza oggi?   I always quickly respond with a SI!  Carmella is a world class cook and lunch at her house might be the simplest of ingredients but they are always tossed together delectably.  Check out Carmella’s cooking on her Facebook Page A Pranza dalla Nonna.

Today we had another variation on the zucchini theme, Spaghetti with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers.  Fresh, local ingredients easily tossed together and delicious.  Zucchini flowers, zucchini, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, hot pepper, spaghetti and pecorino cheese round out the list of ingredients. (You lucky New Jerseyans who belong to a CSA like Hillsborough’s fabulous Martenette Farms have access to lots of zucchini and zucchini flowers this time of year.)

As I was slowing chewing my spaghetti, I asked Carmella her secret.  Simplicity is the secret.  She cut the flowers into little pieces.  They added great orange color to the pasta.  A few cloves of garlic were chopped and after cutting a zucchini in quarters it was thinly sliced.  She put a walloping helping of olive oil in the pan – it thickly covered the pan – and added the garlic.  She let that sizzle for a second and then added the zucchini and flowers.  Next came a tazzino – espresso cup of water – or two fingers in a Nutella glass – and salt.  The veggies cook until the water has evaporated and then they sauté for a couple of minutes more.

At this point the salted spaghetti water should also be on the stove.  Cook the spaghetti as you normally would.   When the pasta is done, drain it and add it directly to the pot that has the oil and sautéed zucchini.  Carmella said, saltare in patella.  Toss it and let it cook a wee pit in the pan.  At this point she also added a hint of hot pepper and freshly grated pecorino cheese.

That was our primo piatto!  Zucchini heaven!

(Carmella is one of the cooks who opens her home for the Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program.  Interested? Message me.)

Ci vediamo



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!


Zucchine Sono Arrivate! Ricetta 2

The zucchine elf - Zia Vittoria!
The zucchine elf – Zia Vittoria!


Everyday it seems there is a mysterious bag, basket or pile of zucchini (zucchine in Italian) by my door.  These things must multiply like…..   Wait – you already heard this!  Remember recipe 1!

Thank you subscriber Karen T. for reminding me about the vegetarian lasagna of my earlier life.  Le zucchine, grilled, becomes the best lasagna noodle. I don’t have a griddle – only a big frying pan.  First step slice the zucchine long ways – of course I ignore all the safety cutting rules I learned in 4-H and to make the thin slice pull that knife right towards my chest – don’t do that.

Tossed some of our heavenly local EVOO in the frying pan and after what felt like I had been standing on my feet for hours – enough were done.


Since the oil was still hot I sliced up due melanzane – egg plant – and did those too. Note that I did them after I did the zucchine. Jack lumps eggplant with tofu as the two things that give him the food creeps.  God forbid una melanzana touch the zucchine!

For filling I dumped 500 grams of ricotta in a bowl, tossed in a egg, a bunch of grated parmesan, splash of pepper, fresh basil and oregano.  Stirred it up and called it art.

Stupidly, I had oiled my baking dish, then looked at the zucchine which had been essentially slathered in oil, grabbed a paper towel and wiped out the dish. Next, I laid down a layer of zucchine and with panache glopped and spread the ricotta mixture.


My burnt fingers reminded me that  I had just roasted red peppers and had an ah ha moment.


I added a layer of red pepper for color.  OK, time for a layer of mozzarella – shit we don’t have any.  Some days you win and some days you just have fun.

Creative a pinch of this and dash of that cooks use what they have.  I had great local cheese – cows milk integrated with hot peppers.


Remembering that it melted well on a panino, I grated it up.  Tossed it on top of the red peppers and then added a second layer of zucchine slices.

Followed that with the requisite ricotta mixture and thought – I need another red layer to artistically balance the red peppers.  Hey, we bought super Spanish salame at the salumeria – I don’t think it was from Spain but they call it Spanish. The salame is crusted in black pepper.  OK, so this isn’t a vegetarian dish – but you don’t have to use salame.


A layer of that, more ricotta, grated cheese and then – shit – I don’t have enough zucchine for a complete top layer. How could that be, I have bushels of zucchine?  Oh, yeah, I got tired of standing by the frying pan.

Thinking quickly, I eyed the eggplant, if I put some in the middle and cut Jack’s slice from the edge would he know that his precious zucchine might have egg plant kooties?  I just won’t mention it and use tons of grated cheese on top to disguise the critters.


Rats, can see the eggplant – but will Jack?

Applause! Buon appetito, Jack. (Wink, Wink)



Makin’ Gnocchi – Great Way To Keep The Kids Busy!

What’s a woman to do when the farmer down the road keeps dropping off pumpkins?

English: Pumpkins

I know what your thinking – It’s December and Thanksgiving is long over.  Why the devil are you getting pumpkins?  I made the mistake of mentioning that I put left over Thanksgiving pumpkins to use by baking them, cleaning and gutting them and freezing the pumpkin to make soup, pie, pumpkin gnocchi etc.  In the friendly world of farm country that means – hey, the chick down the street will take all your left over pumpkins!  As my friend Jonathan said to me, “when life gives you a shitload of lemons – make lemonade.”  Well, the pumpkins were multiplying and I decided to make pumpkin gnocchi!

Christmas is right around the corner so why not be a little daring – make pumpkin gnocchi for your primo piatto.  No one will expect it.

Gnocchi, ready to be cooked.
Gnocchi, ready to be cooked. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must tell you – after the grandkiddies go gaga from staring at electronic toys you can save the day by playing makin’ gnocchi  – otherwise known as rolling and slicing snakes!  Jack, a member of my extended family, came over one day and it was too cold to play outside.  What saved the day?  Makin’ gnocchi!  His mom was our videographer – enjoy!

I don’t really have a tested recipe.  Cooking in my house is like great improvised theater.  So here is about what we did:

Cooked up a pumpkin.  Got rid of the seeds.  Sliced it and mashed up about a 1/2 cup.

Peeled and cooked potatoes and mashed up about 1 cup.

Mixed the potatoes and pumpkins together really well and tossed in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Then we added about  1 1/2 cups of flour – enough flour to make it look like a dough.

We took handfuls of dough and made snakes.  Cut the snakes into 1 inch pieces and put them on a linen towel to dry.  You can score them with the tine of a fork if you want to be cutesy.

A big pot of salted water was put on the stove.  When it was boiling I dumped in the gnocchi.  They sunk.  When they floated to the top they were done.  How simple is this!

The sauce was just melted butter, sage and chopped pumpkin – with the necessary salt, pepper and more grated parm!

Buon Appetito!  

Enjoy the kids – play Makin’ Gnocchi!