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.”
Take a moment and imagine small town America before ugly strip malls and giant box stores polluted the landscape. See happy healthy people greeting their neighbors as they walk to those wonderful, small family owned shops.
Clutching your mom’s hand you visit the butcher, who knows your name and gives you a big smile. You mom says she wants to have a pork roast for dinner – the butcher asks for how many people? “Just six” she says. The big walk-in fridge is opened and you see giant hanging slabs of meat – half a cow, a whole pig – is that goat?
He pulls down the pig carcass and brings it to the giant wooden shopping block. Like a sculptor wielding sharpened knives and a dancer moving to the crack of the cleaver, the butcher magically creates the perfect pork roast just for you. Wrapped in white butcher paper and tied with twine, the gift of good eating is ready to carry home. Hmmmm – no porcine growth hormones, no chemical enhancements just farm grown – the way nature intended it – meat.
Growing up in Flagtown, NJ – when the area was still rural/agrarian – I actually played in fields that held cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep and lots of piles of @#$%. My grandmother taught us how to butcher and clean poultry and game. Our little village even had a butcher shop. Aniello De Scala moved from Brooklyn to Flagtown long before I was born to open a small shop and get away from the Brooklyn mob (so his daughter told me). When I was a kid Aniello’s son George was the butcher. (One of the De Scala butcher blocks is currently feeling lonely in my garage.) Then the developments started eating up the farm land and “progress” brought us supermarkets. Small stores faded away…..
Living in Pontelandolfo is a return to a kinder and gentler way of living and eating. We are in carnivore heaven in Pontelandolfo – there are not one, not two but three butcher shops in our little village – great food means a lot to Pontelandolfesi. The shop I visited the most was Marcelleria, Cinque M.A.M. S.R.L., located at Via Falcone E Borsellino. (I have no clue what the initials mean – they’re all on the sign.) My cousin Carmella explained that this shop was a cooperative for the local farmers – a big plus for me.
Santina Guerrera (h’mm is she related to me?) would greet me every time I went into her Macelleria with a big smile and once with a great question – “Hai intenzione di parlare un buon italiano oggi o cattivo italiano?” (Are you going to speak good Italian today or bad Italian?) I paused, shrugged my shoulders, smiled and repied “Sempre cattivo!” (Always bad.) Clean up your minds – this wasn’t about talking dirty but speaking Italian properly – something I still haven’t mastered. Santina would smile as I fuddled through my orders. The first time I wanted chicken for my extended family of eleven, I learned what an Italian meat portion was. I originally asked for 7 chicken breasts and four full thigh/legs. Santina looked at me and asked “how many are you cooking for?” When I said eleven she cut the order in half and got the cleaver out to separate thighs from legs and cut each breast in half. I thought, this won’t feed eleven. In the USA everybody gets 1/2 pound each! She was right, my Italian cousins eat small healthy portions.
One day, I decided to make an “American” meal for my extended family. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and some green thing or another. I told Santina what I wanted to make – un grande polpettone – and couldn’t understand why she took huge hunks of meat out of the walk in fridge. Midge, you silly girl, she is going to grind it fresh!
She tossed a hunk of beef and a hunk of pork in the giant grinder and out came ground integrated meat. I started to drool on the counter. Of course everything I bought was beautifully wrapped up for me.
The other butcher I visited was Macelleria Perugini Franco on Via Falcone Borsellino, 4. Franco made incredible sausage. At first I had to figure out what days he was grinding meat and adding his magical spices – because until I got the schedule down there wouldn’t be any left! He made the sausage fresh. I just found an old receipt and it only cost me € 3,87 (about $5 for 4 servings of freshly made exceptional sausage.)
No matter where we are in the world, I try never to buy supermarket meat – schifoso – wrapped in plastic, pumped full of chemicals, grown in small crowded cages – gag me – chicken and beef that – well I better stop so I don’t ruin your appetite. When Jack and I are in Flagtown we buy most of our meat directly from local farmers – Farview Farm (http://www.farviewfarm.com) in Readington and Lima Farms (http://limafamilyfarms.com) in Hillsborough.
Carnivores of the world unite behind your local butcher and family farm! We are blessed to have ours in both of our home towns.
This post was sent to me by an incredible cook, Kathy Hall. I know she’s a great cook because I have sat at her table and practically licked the plate clean every time she invites me over. She has been following “Nonna’s Mulberry Tree” and sent me this pictorial post of her own. Enjoy!
Homemade fresh pasta has always ranked high on my kitchen bucket list. I have always cooked almost everything from scratch and still have a fond memory of a pasta party at my friend Grace’s college apartment. She was the first in our crowd to get a Cuisinart and we watched in amazement as in less than two minutes the flour and eggs formed a ball of dough right in the bowl. We liked it so much we did it three times. Luckily, being Italian, she had a pasta maker so we all took turns cranking away for about an hour then happily stringing fresh strands on the back of every available kitchen chair.
That was over 40 years ago. This summer my friend Midge traveled to Italy to reconnect with her Italian heritage and I am following along virtually via this blog. One of her first posts was a recipe for homemade pumpkin ravioli with walnuts, parmesan and speck. It looked and sounded heavenly so I dug out my rolling pin and borrowed my neighbor’s ravioli cutter.
It was not a complete success. The filling was a savory rustic delight. The pasta, which I insisted on rolling by hand, was way too thick and cooked up into a gummy mess of semi raw dough not worthy of it’s yummy filling.
Time for technology. I ordered a pasta machine from Amazon and watched a bunch of Youtube videos on how to make home made pasta. This is my second batch in four days (We ate the first one too fast to photograph.)
The recipe is simple, one egg, about 2/3’s of a cup of all purpose flour, a small splash of olive oil and a little salt (if I remember to add it). I mix it old school starting by making a hole in a mound of flour big enough to hold one broken egg. I scramble the egg, olive oil and salt with a fork and then slowly incorporate the flour working from the inside of the volcano out.
When the fork gets coated with the thick egg flour mixture I switch to my hands continuing to incorporate flour until I have a not too wet, not too dry dough. It’s not as magical as the Cuisinart but it’s a lot less clean up.
The next step is where practice makes a difference as I transform that sloppy doughy mess by manipulating it with my hands. Pasta making is similar to bread making. You have to experience how the dough should feel as you knead it. Ideally your Italian grandmother shows you this. I’m Irish so I learned by experimenting and seeing how different doughs perform as pasta.
For those non bakers, here’s how to knead. Flour your hands and the board. Stretch the ball of dough you formed by pushing down and away from you with the heel of your hand, then rotate 90 degrees, fold in half and push again. If it’s too wet sprinkle a little more flour on the ball and keep working it. If it’s too dry wet your hands and incorporate that little bit of water as you knead. A lot depends on the size of the egg, how much olive oil you put in and the humidity in the air. Relax, work slowly and enjoy. In time you will know when you have the right combination of flour, eggs and water. Eventually the dough will stop sticking to your hands and start to become silky.
Keep pushing away, folding and rotating until the dough is smooth and springs back when poked. It takes between six and ten minutes total and is a nice upper body workout. Then form the dough back into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Some recipes say to flour the ball before wrapping it, others say to coat it with a little olive oil. I flour if the dough seems a little wet, oil if it seems a little dry.
While the dough rests, I make a sauce and put on a big pot of salted water to boil. One night my sauce was fava beans, garlic and olive oil. The next it was tomato sauce with turkey sausage and mushrooms that I had in the freezer. The classic combination of butter and cheese is also good.
After the dough rests, and the sauce and boiling water are ready. Either try to roll the pasta out by hand or dig out a pasta machine and follow the instructions. I strongly recommend the pasta machine. Unlike the Cuisinart, it never has to be washed, just dusted off with a pastry brush.
Roll your pasta dough til it’s thin enough to see your hand on the other side, cut into your favorite shape, cook for two to four minutes depending on thickness, toss with sauce and enjoy. . I can’t speak about left overs since we have had none. This recipe serves two people if you are used to 2 ounce dry pasta servings.
This is the beginning of the most exciting part of my living in Italy. Learning how to cook not like an Italian American but like a Pontelandolfese. Today, I am sitting next to the gorgeous, multi-lingual, brilliant Annarita Mancini and she is going to unearth the secret of the incredible ravioli con zucca. We decided that this is not a cook book blog but a “watch your nonna” and “listen to your nonna” blog. Everything is a pinch of this and a handful of that. So just leap into the conversation and add your nonna’s touches too. Sit back, think foodie thoughts and follow along.
For you lovers of language we will post the first recipe but not a recipe in Italian ably written by Annarita and then in English poorly written by me.
Facilissimo preparare i ravioli! Un uovo per 100 grammi di farina…io e mamma abbiamo dovuto usare 9 uova!!! (That means she fed a ton of people and added more flour too.) ok…unire le uova, la farina e un pò di olio, mescolare fino a rendere l’impasto omogeneo. (“The flour is asking you for more eggs” says Carmela – “that is how you know how much.” How funky granola woo-woo is this! I love it! It is more about look, touch – or as Carmela says “your relationship with the food) Sorry for interrupting – what kind of look are you shooting me – I said I was sorry.
Creare delle sfoglie usando la macchinetta per la pasta. Le lasciamo riposare cospargendole con un pò di farina…nel frattempo prepariamo la zucca per il ripieno dei ravioli…cuocere la zucca con olio,aglio e sale, quando é cotta unire le noci tritate, lo speck a pezzetti e una manciata di formaggio grattuggiato. Con l’aiuto del “miracoloso” attrezzo per preparare i ravioli il gioco é fatto. Mettiamo una prima sfoglia di pasta sull’attrezzo,poi aggiungiamo un pó di ripieno negli appositi spazi,copriamo con una seconda sfoglia, passiamo il matterello sulle sfoglie e i ravioli sono pronti. Passiamo alla cottura…cuocere i ravioli in acqua bollente per meno di 5 minuti. (Come dice mamma:” il tempo che salgono!”)
See she is doing it again – she just knows when it is done! OK, OK – back to Annarita – Per condirli abbiamo usato gli stessi ingredienti del ripieno: zucca, noci, speck e formaggio…basta farli saltare in padella per 2 minuti e il risultato sará delizioso!!!!
According to Annarita making ravioli is easy! She forgot to tell you that Zia Giuseppina first had to go to the chicken coop and get the eggs. OK, now that we have eggs and flour here we go. They use one egg for about 100 grammi of flour – that is about 4 ounces. You have to go by touch here. Not too liquid and not to dry. If it needs more flour – add some. So for twelve people they used nine eggs and about two pounds of flour – Did we really eat all those ravioli???
Blend the eggs and flour together until you have a nice smooth ball of dough. Then break it into handfull sizes, flatten it and send it through the pasta machine. After you made the sheets of dough, set them on the counter on a little flour and let them rest.
Meanwhile, you got some strong dude to cut into the fresh pumpkin and peel it – go find a cute guy at the local caffé. Slice the pumpkin into tiny thin slices. Put some great olive oil in a frying pan with garlic and let that start to cook. Add the pumpkin and saute all together. Add salt to taste. (Anyone have another word besides “add”?) When the pumpkin is cooked add thinly sliced walnuts, grated parmesan and speck.(Unlike other prosciutti, speck is deboned before curing and made in northern Italy.)
Place a sheet of pasta on the – I could not believe this- TUPPERWARE ravioli form. Poke the dough into the form and put about a spoon full of filling in each cavity. Cover with a second sheet of pasta and pass a rolling pin over it. The ravioli form has ridges that will cut the pieces into the perfect shape. Flip the form over and – shazaam – you have ravioli. Now, you all know how to toss ravioli into boiling salted water and cook it until it floats to the top.
What you didn’t know was the segreto – secret – use the same filling for the “condimento” – non sauce. They fried up extra pumpkin, garlic and speck. Then tossed in the nuts and some grated parmesan – which is made from local cheese and the cooked ravioli and served it up with fresh parsley – add extra parmesan to taste. There you have it – “to die for” ravioli.