Shopping is Social

We have only been back for a few days and the larder was more than bare. Thursdays the shops are only open half a day so I was up at dawn – well, 8:00 – to start foraging. Not being totally insane my first stop was Bar Elimar for a cappuccino and brioche.

Dov’è Jack? Where’s Jack? Repeated the chorus at the bar.

Let us get the “where’s Jack” part of the story over. Cripes, without Jack at my side I am chopped liver. After my coffee, I went to the hardware store. “Where’s Jack?”. Next I stopped at Conad, our little local supermarket. “You’re solo today? Where’s Jack?” The fruits and vegetable store, the place to buy agricultural stuff, the butcher. “Dov’è Jack!” I have that phrase memorized. Thank you merry questioners for today’s basic lesson in how important Jack is to the village. Well, I always knew that, but it was kind of cool to have it reinforced. He is the smiling part of this couple. Actually, the queries about Jack reinforce today’s theme. Shopping is social.

The check out people at the super supermarkets where I shop in New Jersey smile and are courteous but never ask me “where’s Jack?” No one leans over the counter or comes around the counter just to gossip about the weather, life or what is happening in the world.

Today’s foraging had me socially interacting, entertained and paying prices that were so low that I had a hard time not saying they were a mistake. At the Ferramenta, hardware store, the owner and I had a nice chat while he spent time adjusting, cleaning and putting a battery in the remote control for our giant electric gate. We talked about a friends cruise, laughed at the electrical tape that held my remote together, and spent time as neighbors. Repaired remote plus battery – €1.50.

Next stop, Fresh Fruits, for incredible Italian oranges, lettuce, cucumbers, red onions, peppers and I don’t know what else I spent €5.50. Nicola, The young woman who owns the store is always working alone, spends time chatting with each customer and puts a smile on my face.

Jack calls Conad, “the supermarket that time forgot.” Actually, if you didn’t know it was hidden down an alley you wouldn’t know it was there. No sign, not a flag, nothing, niente to let you know it exists. Trucks are constantly unloading supplies for this tiny full service grocery store. It may not have a sign but the three women who work there, make the experience so pleasant that people visit once a day. Imagine, the manager today asked me if I wanted “un buon caffè.” She was going to make me a coffee. I spent about €50 but bought three bottles of Prosecco, a bottle of Jack Daniels, butter, eggs, tuna, canned tomatoes – three bags full of stuff. After dragging the stuff to the car, I was off to the baker, agricultural store and butcher. Each place made me feel like family.

My last stop was a tiny little wooden building in neighboring Morcone. Pecorino Del Sannio only makes and sells cheeses made with sheep’s milk. I had only been there twice four months ago and yet the owner asked,”How did my cheese carry to New Jersey?” We tasted her latest creation, lemon flavored sheep’s milk aged cheese soaked in Aglianico ( a red local wine.) Delish. I bought a hunk. I wanted my cousin Carmella to try the cheese so I bought her a pound. Then I bought a lot more. Before I got the bill she asked if I wanted to taste her sweets. Who could say no? She then proceeded to gift me a huge pecora ricotta and pistachio dessert. This enjoyable outing cost me €31.

Pecorino Del Sannio in Morcone

To some, shopping in small shops on a daily basis may seem like a throwback to 1950. It may be, or it may be that a life style that rewards conversation, personal service and inclusion is worth keeping.

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

To read more about my life in Pontelandolfo buy my book, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.

Published by Read Furiously

I Just Gave Birth!

Thanks to my publisher – Read Furiously!

Ten years is a long gestation period. I hate to admit it to you my favorite blog readers, but, some of the stories in my baby I started working on ten years ago. Maybe they weren’t on the page but they were circling my brain. Pinging and panging and causing my fingers to hover over the keyboard and then WHAM start typing. It is because of each of you that this book is now on bookstore shelves. Thank you. Why? Can we be truthful?

Ten years ago, we sold my family’s Flagtown farmette. Got rid of all of our furniture, cars, books, pots and pans. Took a deep breath and came to Pontelandolfo. After one week of La Dolce Vita, I thought I would poke out my eyes and rent my garb. I need to work! Sitting idly, sipping Prosecco and chatting in the piazza is great – for an hour. I need to work! Someone asked if the energizer bunny felt threatened by me. I need to work. But what would I do here in the Sannio Hills? I volunteered in the school, organized arts events but – what was I doing for my creative spirit? That is where you came in. I decided to start a blog that would – a. be sort of a journal for me. b. be a way to promote my new village and c. give me deadlines!

Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos grew out of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree. Some of you will recognize a few of the tales. They have been expanded and humorized! Your audience for my ramblings made this book possible. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. Read Furiously is a great publisher and I am so thankful that they decided to have me join their library of publications and make even more stories available to you. Grazie mille a tutti!

I saw the finished book for the first time Tuesday. It came to my condo in a plain brown envelope???? Hmm

Those of you who already bought the book – I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER. Those of you who are going to buy it tomorrow – DITTO. Oh, where can you buy it? Wherever books are sold. On line, in person – you may have to order it. Your local bookstore will love you if you go in and buy it there. I will love you if they would like me to do a reading!

Speaking of readings. The world is a small place. Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live makes it easy for me to visit your book club, library, store from anywhere in the world. Think about it! Have award winning acting skills and will travel – digitally anywhere.

Enjoy my travel memoir meets tour guide book! Have I told you yet today that I love you? Well, I do. Vi amo!

Ci vediamo,

Midge

Wind Whips the Hills

The wind is howling outside the house. It has been battering the windows, the walls and the tiles on the roof since Wednesday night.  Today is Friday.  It seems to be getting stronger and stronger.  Now I understand why giant rocks purposefully sit on so many tile roofs. It is incredible to me that our house doesn’t move.  Not one shimmy, shake or shuffle. The force of this wind feels almost like the hurricanes of New Jersey. There, I would feel our wooden house tremble and I would hear the shutters rattle. Here, I hear nothing but the wind.  It is screeching around us. Leaves, nuts and fruits are flying off the trees.   Hmm, I wonder if the olives and grapes are OK?

I’m not quite sure why I feel compelled to write about the wind. It’s keeping me inside in a way that the snow or the rain never did. But simply walking from our house to the attached house next door was more than my body wanted to handle. It’s interesting how the weather here has an impact on our lives. I guess I could be watching television.  Oh no, the wind is jiggling the antenna on the roof.  I guess I could be on the internet researching where to pitch another play.  Oh no the wind is dancing with the big Internet dish on the balconey.

I keep thinking of the three little pigs and I’m so glad that we lucked into a house made not of brick, but stone.  Not just some pretty decorative stone, giant rocks stacked into two-foot-thick walls.  The rock bones of the house go back generations and have withstood earthquakes.  

Restored Stone Italian Home Isn’t Going Anywhere – Take THAT wind!

Apparently, in the town center the wind wreaked havoc on businesses.  Doors were smacking you as you tried to open them.  Car doors flapped like eagle wings.  Yesterday, we heard that the elementary school kids could barely make it from their parent’s cars into the building. Jack asked did they crawl?  I thought perhaps they tied them together with ropes and dragged them in!   In reality, children clung to parents and like hearty hill people wouldn’t let the wind keep them home.  

Not being a hearty hill person, I chose not to leave the house on Thursday or Friday.  Not to go to the piazza, not to go to the butcher, vegetable store, and not go to visit a soul.  I was waiting for the wind god to get tired of puffing his cheeks out.

Wind Gods can be found in our historic center on walls and above doors. Perhaps they are there to blow the bad people away.

Listening to wind that sounded like huge waves pounding the New Jersey Shore, I shuddered and got comfortable with an Elizabeth George, Detective Linley book.  Just as Linley was finally going to propose to Lady Helen, the unlocked interior connecting door between the houses crashed open. In burst next door neighbor, Zia Vittoria carrying a huge tray. She has a hurricane force personality. During yesterday and today’s windstorm I sat, read a book, and stared out the windows at the dancing trees. During yesterday’s windstorm my neighbor made taralli (round breadsticks.) Then she got bored and made a stuffed bread with broccoli.  The wind was still blowing so she made another sweet bread. She became a whirling kitchen dervish.  Obviously, she couldn’t eat it all so she burst into our half of the building to share the carbs.  I was happy to see her and gave her a hug.  The wind was making her feel a wee bit lonely, she said, and cooking and cleaning kept her sane. 

Why is the wind forcing me to sit in a chair all day? What is it about the sound that makes me want to bury myself in blankets and do nothing? One would think the energy of the wind would pump me up and send to the kitchen or computer or close that needs cleaning. But no. The wind sent me to a book to read and an early drink to drink.

The lights started flickering. The digital clock on the oven when berserk.  Darkness.  Light.  Darkness. Light.  The electricity went in and out until it tired of toying with us and stayed out.  Jack played with the breaker box.  Nada.  I went next door and Zia Vittoria was in darkness too.  Hmm, was it just our house?  What if my iPad runs out of battery – what will I read? Thanks to functioning cellular towers – they must be made of real sturdy mountain material – WhatsApp messages raced from house to house!  No one on my street – which wends it way in a circle though the hillside – had power.  I dashed out a message to pals Mariann and Jeff further up into the hillside.  Nope, senza corrente there too.  Emojis flicked back and forth around the hills even if the lights couldn’t.  The power did return and I decided to be productive.  Hence, today’s little tale.

In honor of my husband’s heritage- An Irish Blessing – May the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face…

Ci Vediamo!

Midge


This is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Think about sharing a copy of my play, E-Mail: 9/12, published by Next Stage Press with your book club, history teacher pals or friends. CLICK HERE FOR THE LINK.

My First Big Italian Wedding!

Hmm, is Midge telling a big bugia? Her “First” big Italian Wedding – doesn’t her sister’s wedding – replete with major politicians – count? How about nephew Joey’s – taking place in a New Jersey palace? If we are concerned about the truth here – how about her “simple wedding” to Jack. The ceremony featured ballerinas and a harpist? Stop! It is absolutely the truth – Midge and Jack went to their First Big Italian Wedding in Italy! For tradition, glamour and length, being at an Italian family wedding in Italy tops all those others.

I thought it would be fun to glide over those things that are the same and talk about the differences between the weddings I’ve witnessed before and this one. Let’s start with the invitations. In today’s frenetic USA world, save the date notices are often sent out a year before the wedding. Here in Pontelandolfo, no one is notified until one month before the wedding – after Il Promesso – I told you about that a month ago. That “Promise” is the contract to really truly get married. A few days after it, the bride and groom hand carry the invitations to everyone within driving distance. Giusy did e-mail invitations a wee bit in advance to the United States. I bet Antonio did the same thing for relatives who live far away. How incredibly personal! The invitations were printed on a natural fiber that was imbedded with wild flower seeds. After the wedding, invitees were encouraged to plant the invitations. They had witnessed the love between Giusy and Antonio bloom and next spring would watch the flowers blossom.

About two weeks before the big day, I couldn’t understand why my cousin Carmella was frantically calling a caterer, cleaning and perking up her house. I figured an incredible venue had been booked why stock food for the masses at the house? Tradition. The morning of the wedding the bride’s family – which included me – was expected to show up at the bride’s home, eat a bit and celebrate la sposa. Ladies, imagine, the day of your wedding a bunch of family members happily visiting you as you tweaked your make up?

A week before the wedding – we ladies did what women around the world do. We dragged the giggling Giusy away for a day with the ladies. We went to a fabulous spa, Fonte del Bennesere Resort in Castelpetroso.

Swirling water, super lunch and sex talk!
Nothing like a floating bar to keep the party happy.

That final week before the wedding, the push was on to finish all of the guest gifts. Groom, Antonio De Michele raises bees and produces some of the finest honey in the area. Giusy and Antonio – with the help of family – bottled 200 small jars of Antonio’s honey, decorated and boxed it. Seating charts always take time to figure out. The design was a no brainer – honeycombs! Each table had a name and all guests were listed in bee hives. Check. Two jobs done. Then came the work on the love phrases. Yes, love phrases – Giusy and Antonio researched and chose quotes that dealt with good relationships by famous authors. Each guest found the gentle love reminder at their place. “Salutarsi è una pena così dolce che ti direi addio fio a domani.” William Shakespeare. (Saying goodbye is such a sweet pain that I would say goodbye until tomorrow.)

Knowing that party was going to go on into the wee hours, Jack and I decided to do an advance trip to the venue and see if slightly drunk/tired we would be able to find our way home. We followed the GPS round and round hill top roads to Villa Clodia in Pago Veiano (BN). The majestic wedding palace is in the middle of nowhere on roads that this lady in her third act didn’t want to navigate at night. We booked a B&B down the road.

Wedding gifts in Pontelandolfo seem to always be in cash. There are no bridal registries. No one ships silver or crystal to the bride to be. The cash is also a set amount per person. I kept asking about this and heard the same amount and same story from numerous people. Couples use the gifts to pay for the elaborate wedding parties. Some misanthropes, I’m told, make sure the cash is in small bills in the “busta.” If they don’t feel they are getting bang for their bucks at the reception, they pull out some of the euros. I’m not making this up – really – more than one person told me. The opposite is also true. Annarita told me she and Emanuele went to a wedding that was so opulent they opened their gift envelope and stuck in an extra euros.

Wedding day was finally here. Hair dressers, make-up artists, videographers, photographers and Jack and I all paid a visit to Giusy and the Mancini family at home. This tradition of the extended family seeing the bride off from her home is very sweet. The house was festooned with flowers, tulle and camera boxes. Everyone was smiling and laughing as the video and photography team managed the show. Hmm, were we dress extras?

The house, family and of course Giusy all looked amazing.
Giusy looked like a movie star – or a princess. Beautiful.

Time for the church! The mass was scheduled for 11:00 AM. A morning event, I discovered, doesn’t necessarily mean one dresses in a tea length dress and pearls – like I did. There were women arriving at the church in bejeweled evening wear. I will admit, I felt correct in my navy blue silk. Equally sure that the gorgeous women in floor length finery felt equally correct. The exterior of the church was decorated by Nicola Ciarlo and really set the stage. Speaking of stage – there was a drone flying over head videotaping our arrivals.

Groom, Antonio, zoomed up in a red Ferrari!

Applause! This hit me as something I hadn’t seen in the USA. Led by the priest, the audience was encouraged to applaud for the bride and groom not just at the end of the service but three or four times during the service. I love it! Applause was a mainstay later at the reception too.

The church with its gold alter is always a sight to behold. Festooned with flowers and tulle it was the perfect setting for a lovely wedding.
Antonio and Giusy are ready to lead a life of love. Jack and I wore matching navy. So did my cousin Carmela and her husband Mario – Giusy’s parents. We all look yummy.

We dashed off after the mass to La Vecchia Fattoria, the B&B we booked. The rooms were clean and utilitarian – if you like youth hostels. The place was country-set beautiful and we found the parking lots packed. Turns out it an agriturismo with a stellar reputation for lunch. We landed in foodie heaven! Leaving our bags, we drove the three minutes to Villa Clodia. First step, proof of vaccine. Second step, fill out the contact form. Third step, join our “hive” of friends at a table for 8 under a giant pergola. The cocktail hour was glamorous. Uniformed waitstaff flowed between tables pouring Prosecco and tempting us with small plates of everything from seafood to rice balls. Knowing that a multi course meal was scheduled, I held off and only tasted a bite or two. Yumm.

The wedding was a moving feast. The next stage was the grand ballroom. The couple did something very clever. Each table entered the foyer to the ballroom as a group. They were then placed by the photographer around the bride and groom for a photo. That insured that every guest was in a shot with the stars of the show. A three piece combo was set up in the corner of the ballroom. We found our hive and began our 6 hour – or was it 7 hour – feast. No one was dancing. We were told due to COVID dancing was not encouraged. Applause was encouraged by the band. Applaud the grandparents. Eat a new course. Applaud the parents. Eat a new course. Applaud the sibling. Eat a new course. Thanks the goddesses for the energy expended applauding. It freed up space in our filling stomachs. Actually, the applause was heartfelt and fun. After the second or third Primi Piatti, the bride and groom did their first dance. When the parents and grandparents were encouraged to join them, Jack and I snuck in. Hell, we are old enough to be their grandparents.

There were fairly long periods of time between courses – I counted 14 courses but could be wrong. People would go outside and sit on the well appointed terrace and amble back just as waiters scurried about with the next course. After the fruit course, which – groan- we realized was probably the last, I went to the ladies room. Sadly, I was there for a while. When I got back, the grand ballroom was empty. Not a guest. Not a waiter. Not a band member. No one except Jack. He didn’t know where everyone went. I sure as heck, not having been in the room, had a clue where all the people were. We walked out of the ball room to the upper terrace and didn’t see a soul. We left. WHAT A COLOSSAL MISTAKE!

The party had apparently moved to the lower level of the property. Tables were set poolside. Waiters ported huge trays filled with glorious pastries from table to table. Prosecco was poured. After dinner drinks and coffee were available. Music filled the late night air. The couple cut the enormous wedding cake – actually it was a faux cake and they just pretended. During Covid, buffets and touching the cake are off limits. Individual tiramisus made there way to each guest. Then the scent of grilling meats filled the air. An after the party, party of more food was about to begin. WE MISSED IT ALL. The next day in the piazza, I was chastised by a friend for not saying goodbye to anyone and just leaving. That is when I discovered what we had missed. I felt incredibly stupid for not understanding or asking in advance what the usual protocol was. Sorry for leaving my First Big Italian Wedding before it was over.

Ci vediamo,

Midge

Check out what launches October 1st!

Toss Those Zucchini in the Freezer!

Who knew?! I sure didn’t know I could slice, dice, and shred zucchini and toss it in the freezer. No hot stove and a pot of boiling water for blanching. No standing over a pot of steaming stuff with sweat pouring down my neck. All I needed was some local advice – grazie Carmella and Zia Vittoria.

The fields were laden with zucchini. In the morning the orange/yellow zucchini flowers would open to entertain the local bees. The color was almost as appealing as the yummy fried stuffed with mozzarella zucchini blossoms we have eaten all summer. Problem. How many fried zucchini blossoms could one person eat before succumbing to death by gluttany? Solution. Freeze the flowers to use with pasta, stuff a ravioli or add color and flavor to rice. Freezing the flowers took soooo much work. I don’t know if I should share the process, it may be taxing.

  • Wash blossoms – I picked them with clean hands from a chemical free garden. I just tossed them in cold water for a bit.
  • Drain and let blossoms dry thoroughly.  I actually patted the babies dry with paper towels.
  • Toss in freezer bags.
  • Put in freezer
  • Have a glass of prosecco to celebrate.

Carmella told me to make a simple pasta sauce by sautéing onion in olive oil then adding shredded zucchini and chopped zucchini blossoms. Some salt, pepper and grated pecorino cheese rounded out the dish. This was a great way to use up two zucchini and about 8 blossoms but what about the rest?

You can shred and freeze the zucchini! That is exactly what I did with about a third of my zucchini haul. Listening to the blues, I was bouncing and shredding. It went quickly. Soon the bags of shredded zucchini were in the freezer. Imagine a winter yen for zucchini bread and popping a bag out of the freezer. Brrr it is a cold December and you want to make zucchini fritters or “crab” cakes. Oh no, need to bring a quick dish to a party – zucchini frittata cut into bite sized squares.  With a smile you will remember that the prep is already done.

I have also diced zucchini to use in soups and sliced zucchini to use in – well something or other. Those too went into bags and then into the freezer.

Shredded, Sliced and Diced Zucchini

It is embarrassing to admit this. Please don’t tell anyone. We went out and bought a second refrigerator with a huge freezing compartment just so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about not using all the produce we got from Zia Vittoria. I love the freezer!

One day I went over to Zia Vittoria’s and found her in her work/canning kitchen frying up huge batches of something. I could smell the onions – who doesn’t love the smell of sautéed onions. Since the garden was also full of tomatoes, she was doing a quick sauté of onion, tomatoes and zucchini. She keeps saying “dura” hard. Then I got it. This was a flash plop in the olive oil and the vegetables were still crispy. She uses this mixture with pasta but I figure it is a quick side dish too.

I promptly went home and gathered up all the ingredients – did I mention a bunch of basil too.  As speedily as you could say “chop-chop,” I cooked up a fast batch. When I would rather write than cook or rather have cocktail hour than cook – all I need to do is grab a bag. I freeze in tiny sandwich size bags that I thrust inside a big freezer bag – it really is just grab and go.


We are blessed to live in a place that is rich in fresh produce and friendly neighbors who love to share with us.  I hope you are having a safe, healthy and farm to table summer! (Local farmers rock!)

Ci Vediamo

Midge

PS.  Great news to share – I just got a publishing contract with Read Furiously for my new collection of Pontelandolfo centered short stories.  “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” will be out in 2020.  Don’t fret – you all will be the first to know!

Calcio and Me

Last week Italy played England in the UEFA EURO 2020 match. Until last week, I didn’t know there was a UEFA or that it stood for the Union of European Football Associations. I also didn’t understand why this was the 2020 match – duhhhhh – the pandemic squashed last year’s. As our entire village started preparing for this event, I realized I better do some research or would be a really stupid Italian – American.

Italian Flags Fluttered in Advance of the Match

AHEM, said the professoressa with rich but boring academic tones, Italy has been in 10 major tournament finals – 6 world cup, 4 EURO.  Among the European nations, only Germany has played in more.  The not so staid English have never been in the finals of a European Championship.  This was their first try at a major tournament since winning the 1966 World cup.  Sadly, for them, but not for us THEY LOST!

The night of Italy’s win, I finally began to understand calico. Don’t be silly, I still don’t understand the rules or why a sport that is supposed to take 90 minutes takes a lot more than 90 minutes. What I finally began to understand was that the game wasn’t as important as the opportunity for neighbors, friends, soon to be friends and outright enemies to have a communal focus. Joining the majority of the village in the Piazza that night, I saw everyone from infants to people older than Jack staring at movie screens and holding their collective breaths at the same time. Cries of alarm went up when goals were missed. Chairs were knocked over as the crowd leapt to its feet when a goal was made. In-between these specific moments people were talking to not only those at their table but those around them.

All the bars in town, who had starved during lockdown, had prepared for the onslaught of customers – who were more than customers. Surrounding each bar, staring at television and movie style screens, were people who had been trapped in their homes for over a year and were now not only supporting their country’s team but supporting each other. Babies were passed from person to person, drinks and food were bought and sent to different tables, bar owners were assisted by family and friends who are like family, strangers and “the local Americans” were embraced. (There was no embracing but lots of elbow touching.)

For one night, no one was worrying about the latest designer version of Covid or what would happen when the region moved from Covid White status to yellow or worse. The angst of the past year was lost as a team of Italian men chased a ball across the pitch. (That is what they call the playing field – don’t ask me why I haven’t a clue.)

At the beginning of the match, as fireworks filed the air, all stood and sang the Italian national anthem. Italians were coming together with one focus – winning. We won the match and we in Italy will beat this pandemic.

Here is a quick peak at what I enjoyed:

Ci vediamo-

Midge

Join us in Pontelandolfo in 2022! Check out Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.

Bentornati! Welcome Back!

Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

The hills were alive with the sounds of music!  Just not the song you are thinking of.  For the past few days, our village has serenaded us with the sounds of welcome, love and joy featuring that musical word that means so much – bentornati!  Bentornati is the melodious way to say welcome back – but really more than just welcome back.  I am so happy to see you!  We are glad you are back!

We are glad to be back in pontelandolfo!

After our quarantine period was over, Jack and I donned our masks and made our way down to Pontelandolfo’s village center.  It was the first time we had been to the piazza since covid shut us down and trapped us so very far away.  Wow!  So many changes!  The weekly market wasn’t in Piazza Roma – but we could see the vendors trucks behind the school in Piazza Its Been So Long I don’t Remember the Name.  Look, I shouted, a new outdoor bar is open on the promenade.  What a great place for a quick pick me up during the pre-dinner passegiata or after dinner night out.  All of the bars have a much bigger outdoor presence. Newer tables, umbrellas – wow – so urbane!  Those changes were brought about because outdoor seating was the only way the bars could eke out a living during the height of the pandemic.

We continued to drive around and noted that everyone was wearing a mask.  Shoppers were carrying their bags of goodies and wearing masks.  Venders were wearing masks. Bar staff were all masked up.  We parked the car, put on our masks and got hit with the welcoming sounds of Bentornati!   

Bentornati from the owner and customers at Bar Elimar.  Bentornati and conversation with a man we barely know who told us to sit in the shade with him.  Bentornati and fist bumps from people we knew and passed in the streets.  Bentornati and invitations to come over for coffee from folks we haven’t seen in pandemic ages.  Bentornati and tell us everything you have been doing – from the pharmacists.  Bentornati, from the staff at the grocery store.  Bentornati and what vaccines did you get – from the florist. People knocked on our car window to say Bentornati!  Bentornati and come for dinner – an invitation we promptly accepted.

This simple welcome back phrase made us feel immediately right at home.  We felt surrounded by the affection and friendship that one is blessed to feel in a small town.  Bentornati, ci siete mancato.  Welcome back we missed you.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing adventures for 2022! Cook, explore, taste, create and live like a Southern Italian

Cooking – Live From Pontelandolfo

The sky outside was grey, but my kitchen was bright and filled with the laughter and joy of Pontelandolfo’s Carmela Fusco. Disclaimer – Carmela is my talented cooking cousin. Was Carmela literally in my kitchen?  Nope, we were testing the concept of a virtual cooking class.  From sunny Italy, Carmela led students thousands of miles away through the process of making bignè, the airy pastry you need for profiteroles!  

I felt like a cooking idiot when, during the process, I realized that profiteroles – I had only ever seen stacked in a pyramid and covered with dripped chocolate – were literally the favorite dessert of my youth.  Chocolate covered cream puffs!  My mother, bless her soul, used to make them for special occasions.  I never tried, but when I needed a mom hug, I would buy a box of Boston Cream Pie mix and get almost the same creamy taste. It wasn’t the same but I could feel the love.

Something else I learned, was that bignè is also called choux pastry.  There isn’t any yeast or raising agent in the dough.  It has a high moisture content that creates steam and that puffs the pastry.  Isn’t the science of food grand?

Carmela’s daughter Annarita Mancini, as she does for our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, was there to translate.  Those of us gathered around our tablets trying to make bignè study Italian with Annarita and vowed not to ask for her help. Gulp, I needed her help. I mean, I have only been trying to learn Italian for twenty years, cut me a break.  This wasn’t just a cooking class. This was a chance to use the Italian we had been studying in a real-world situation.  What could be a better place to practice our language skills than Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Admission – when we obviously didn’t quite get what Carmela was saying, Annarita jumped in.)

I am only going to talk about the first step towards the light, cream filled profiteroles – making the bignè. This is the small pastry of a cream puff.  Carmela told me that the neat thing about her bignè is that you can stuff it with sweet or savory fillings.  She doesn’t add sugar, as I think my mom did, into the pastry.  The ingredients are:

150 grams acqua – water

80 grams burro – butter

150 grams farina – flour

5 – 6 uova – eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius .

Prep a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Even though we got the ingredient list sent to us, there was a wee dilemma changing the metric measures into the British Imperial System on the fly.  Correct, I had no idea that cups, ounces and pounds were part of something called the British Imperial System.  Cripes, it even sounds like empire building. One learns something new every day.  Time to work on my math skills or have the conversion app open on my phone.

We put the water in a big pot on the unlit stove and added all the butter.  Then we turned the heat on high and melted the butter.  It takes a long time to melt that much butter.  When it finally melted and had little boiling bubbles we added the flour a little at a time. (Other recipes on line said dump all the flour in at once – Carmela was meticulous about drizzling the flour in.) KEEP STIRRING.  This part requires a strong arm.  Who needs a gym – you have a kitchen!  When the dough started to cling together in a ball and no longer stuck to the pot, we turned off the heat.  We stirred the dough a bit more – with Carmela warning us, “not too much we don’t want it to cool.  Now, crush it so it isn’t a ball.”  What?? We just stirred until our arms ached and made the bloody ball – now I have to crush it? We smooshed our balls.

This next part was kind of magical and required eyes that saw the nuances of color.  We added an egg and blended it into the dough until the color of the dough was the color it was before we added the egg.  When your arm starts to scream, get someone else to take a turn stirring.  Finally, the color will be same as it was.  Then add the second egg and repeat the process.  Yup, it is a long process but the results – delicious.  Once again, when the color was the same as it was before the second egg we tossed in egg number three.  

No, you are crying not again!  Why didn’t we just toss all the eggs in at once?  Carmela pointed out it might seem easier to add all the eggs at once but the secret for a cloud like bignè is to do it this way.  The dough needs time to absorb each egg. I think this should be a team sport – like a relay with someone else there to take a stirring turn. They could also keep the Prosecco glasses full.

We were laughing out loud as we tried to show Carmella our dough by tilting our iPads and phones towards our pots without dropping them in.  Stop laughing!  Add egg number four!  We repeated the process and then added the fifth and final egg.

Whew, this was the hardest part.  Where is that prosecco? 

Using a spatula we cleaned the sides of the pot by drawing all the sticky dough to the center in a ball like pile.  Now, taking two tablespoons,  we attempted to drop the dough in cute balls on the prepared cookie sheet.  Carmela is a master at this, she rolled the dough back and forth and created balls.  She pointed out they didn’t have to be perfect.  Misshapen was fine – except all of hers were perfect and all of mine looked a lot less than perfect.

Carmela said, “Make sure you leave space between the globs.  With all those eggs the pastry will rise. When our nonnas made this pasta they used their hands to mix the dough – even though it was really hot.”  Hmmm, maybe that is where I got my asbestos hands.

Almost done. Put the tray of bignè into the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.  They will grow and get a warm toasty color. They really do grow! Well not everyone’s grew we did have a batch that kind of looked like tasty hockey pucks.

When you take these lovelies out of the oven and they have cooled you can slice them and use them for light little tea sandwiches or invite me over because you are filling them with a decadent cream and topping them with chocolate.  Yummy.

Carmela’s Bignè – Perfetto!

We all had a great time giggling, groaning and cooking with Carmela. Can’t wait until the pandemic is over and we can really be with her in her kitchen!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

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