Happy Easter! If you don’t celebrate Easter, Happy Day. Like many people, I was up early getting ready for family, friends and food. Food being the key ingredient. Smiling, I walked past my set table. Last night, the china was placed, napkins were fashioned into cascading waterfalls dripping down the wine glasses and the silver was polished. Sigh, I am a great planner. All I have to do this morning is cook. Well actually, I didn’t even really have that much to cook. Jack had cut the rutabaga up and it was ready to boil. I had prepped the broccoli rabe. Guests would be adding to the feast. The lamb, the wonderful organic, grass fed and running happy in the fields lamb was my primary responsibility.
I love lamb. Rare lamb is my favorite Easter dish. Yummy, stop rolling your eyes – a carnivore is a carnivore. Following an Ina Garten recipe that my cooking pal Kathy sent me, I had marinated the leg of lamb in yogurt, rosemary, lemon rind, olive oil, salt and pepper. It did look like someone had vomited in my refrigerator, but the marinade was guaranteed to make an incredible tasting lamb. I pulled the lamb out of the frigorifero and left it on the counter to warm up While the oven was pre-heating, I had a Bloody Mary and thanked the universe for a terrific day. Each time I walked into the kitchen and saw the lamb, a smile appeared on my face.
Wiping off the yogurt – which was disgusting – I envisioned the crispy outer shell and rare interior. My mouth was watering in anticipation. We had calculated that an eleven pound leg of lamb would need about three and a half hours in the oven. At 11:30, the leg of lamb went into the 450 degree oven. “Alexa,” I bellowed, “set timer for fifteen minutes.” I puttered anxiously waiting for her dulcet beeps. The oven was lowered to 350 and I went into my office.
I’m doing the Dramatist Guild’s April challenge, “End of Play.” That means put your butt in a chair, let your creativity flow and finish the play that has been percolating for days. I’m researching WWII Italian Prisoners of War who were incarcerated in the USA. The stories are amazing. I really got into the research.
Suddenly, Jack stormed into the room. I looked up. “Midge, there is smoke in the kitchen. Who is watching the cooking.”
“I am. Just from my desk in the office. I can kind of see around the corner to the stove.”
Then, I saw the smoke. The oven must be filthy – didn’t I clean the oven this year? Sighs escaped from my lips and I shuffled over to the kitchen. Yup, there was smoke. Yup, it was coming from the oven. I opened the door – the lamb looked crispy. Grabbing my instant read meat thermometer I took the lamb’s temperature. What the … 146! No, no, the guests wont be here for two hours and the meat is done. While it rests it will cook even more. It was supposed to take three hours – what – it has been three hours? The beep of the smoke detector filled the room. The windows were opened. Crispy smoke detector activator lamb may have changed my standard Easter menu. Merde.
What to do? I took the lamb out of the oven, covered it with tin foil and opened a bottle of red wine. Red goes with lamb. I hope there will be some left for our guests.
As soon as we got out of our pal Jeff’s car, the succulent scent of slowly cooked cinghiali, wild boar, wafted over us. At 8:20 PM, Jeff, Marianne, Jack and I headed down the hill toward Pontelandolfo’s covered market. Since nothing here has ever started on time – ever – we were surprised to hear music playing and see everything organized and ready to go early! Sponsored by La Squadra Cinghiale Lido, wild boar hunting club, this was the best organized food centered event that I have ever attended in our little village. No, I mean, the best organized event ever! The club members thought of everything – starting with arrows and signs letting you know just where the event was. For years, I have whined about the lack of audience or tourist considerations. This group rocks and understood how to help everyone enjoy the night.
We got down to the covered market and joined the line to enter. The line flowed like a fast moving stream. We paid our €10 each, got a ticket and were whisked along. (Signage let us know exactly what to expect.)
A tray was placed in front of us, first stop – wine! That glass of full bodied red would be perfect with cinghiale. (You could also buy a bottle.) The tray slid down the counter and a club member filled a bowl with cavateli smothered in sauce teaming with chunks of boar. He pushed the tray on to the next station. A local hard roll – wrapped in plastic so no sticky fingers touched it – landed on the tray. Next stop, a scoop of cinghiale slowly braised with onions and garlic filled a tray cutout. That must be enough for ten bucks right? Nope. The final cutout on the tray was for an enormous scoop of cinghiale that tasted like it had marinated in wine and was slowly cooked with tomatoes and herbs. OMG it was ottimo, the best.
My neighbors – Nunzia and Amadeo – waved us over and created spots for us. The place was already full and tables had reserved signs. I had a chance to look around and appreciate the transformation the market space had undergone. Cafeterias style tables were set up and covered in yellow table clothes. Lots of them had reserved signs. I was happy that Nunzia called us over. The club had fashioned the cassa – place you pay – assembly line and enclosed kitchen at one end of the enormous space. The other side of the open space was the realm of Gabrielle Palladino, Pontelandolfo’s true renaissance man. He is an accomplished author of numerous books, a singer and theatre professional. He is also works in city hall. As they chowed down, the music he played and sang entertained the crowd.
The food was “to die for” and the convivial surroundings made the evening a spectacular success. After we finished eating, we didn’t want to leave. But the long line of hungry people waiting to come in, made me realize we should let them turn the table. The efficient volunteers had been coming around and bussing tables around us. What shall we do? Grab a bottle of wine and dance the night away!
The hunting club is housed in the old village nursery school. They get it for very little rent or free but maintain it and pay all the bills. La Squadra Cinghiale Lido is an asset to the village. Wild boars are really destructive and seem to multiply like rabbits. They have even taken over streets in Rome. My fantasy is that the organization also form a cooperative and get licensed to hunt beyond the season and sell the meat. I would be the first in line. Grazie La Squadra Cinghiale Lido for a perfect Pontelandolfo evening.
Every year on September 12th, I remember where I was the day before. To deal with my own sadness, fears and sense of loss, I started writing a play. The play I wrote, Email: 9/12 was based on the emails I received from friends and family around the world. It tells the story of 9/11 from very personal perspectives. It hit me today that the youngest members of my extended family weren’t even born when the Twin Towers went down. I’ve shared my play with them. The play would be a wonderful component for any social studies or history class and a catalyst for discussion. It is published by Next Stage Press.
Fernando Fiat loves an adventure as much as any other Fiat. (Those of you who have read Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos have tracked his journeys.) The other morning I got up, looked at Fernando, shuddered and screamed “Where have you been?” The car was covered in sand! Did it take me on the quick trip to a beach on the Adriatic? Had it accompanied me to the neighboring village’s Beach Volleyball tournament? No! The 500 XL shuddered a bit and looked at me with “do you still love me“ headlight eyes.
Then it hit me – like a dune in the eye. Morocco! The high flying Sahara sands had covered my poor Fernando and he/she never got to enjoy Morocco. Seriously, there were no gifts on the back seat from open air bazaars, fabulous food containers were not perched on the back seat and make my tummy dance music was not playing on the radio. There was just sand. Years ago Mario, my cousin Carmella’s husband had explained the Moroccan connection. Being a testa dura, I had put the story away as folklore. Bo, it isn’t lore! Look at Fernando!
Everyone here knows about the sand. Everyone but me believes it comes from Morocco. I did what any baby boomer would do, I googled it. There are websites dedicated to the flow of the Sahara sand from Africa to Europe, the Caribbean and even the United States! Even NASA follows sand storms! NASA, seems to like the sand, and alerts us to this hurricane factoid – hurricanes hate flying sand! More sand means fewer hurricanes.
Dust plays a major role in Earth’s climate and biological systems. Since it is rich with iron and other minerals that plants and phytoplankton need, it provides natural fertilizer for ecosystems when it lands downwind. The airborne particles also absorb and reflect sunlight—altering the amount of solar energy reaching the planet’s surface. Dust can also promote or reduce cloud and storm formation, depending on other atmospheric conditions.
According to that same NASA article. Dust sounds like a good thing.
Living in Southern Italy I learn something new every day! Usually, it is about preserving a healthy harvest. I never thought that the unwashed Fernando Fiat could help me understand that sand, a simple grain, can have such a global impact.
The other night and again this morning as Jack and I sat at Bar Elimar, I realized something was different. The vibe was different. The sun was still shining and the piazza dogs were still smiling at Jack. (Jack tends to drop things off his plates on purpose, hence the smiling dogs.) The silence hit me. The piazza was empty. I mean, not literally empty, but fewer people were lingering over coffee. We easily got a table in the shade. It is still August but summer season is over. The Pontelandolfese who returned to their roots have flown off. For some reason, I found this quiet period depressing. I, who hate crowds and backpacks, actually felt sad that there were less people out and about. Perhaps, I too am entering a new era or turning back the clock to a time when I couldn’t function unless there was a crowd to sap the energy from. Brrrrrrr. This is sounding too contemplative.
Snap out of it! This is the perfect time to be here in Pontelandolfo. The air is crisp. The sweat has stopped pooling under my boobs and the mosquitoes have stopped using my bare legs as a buffet. It is a pleasure to sit here, stare and sip my cappuccino.
Midgeeee! Tutto posto? Cheerily said a couple of men as they passed by our table on their way into the bar. Maria, the ever efficient barista/waiter knew exactly what we wanted without our asking. The silent piazza was still home for us. Full or empty we belong here.
Jack, who takes a nap every afternoon, dragged my tired, pajama clad butt off the couch at 9:00 PM and told me to get dressed. It was time to head to the piazza. How many nights in a row could I drink, eat, drink, watch performances and go to bed at 2:00 AM???? Hell, I’m 73 years young and pride myself on my “youngness” but even I in the prime of my third act can’t go out every night for an entire month. (Jack said I am exaggerating it is only seven to ten days. Feels like a month to me.)
During August, Pontelandolfo becomes an arts and entertainment hotspot. We do compete with other towns for the crowds but our Folk Dance Festival can’t be topped. Gruppo Folk Ri Ualanegli, our internationally acclaimed folkloric dance company, produces a festival that brings in dance companies from around the world. This group takes our dance heritage seriously. One of the big draws on the opening night is our junior company. Children as young as three and four stamp, twirl and dance the dances of their ancestors. Click Here and check out the photos and video on their FaceBook page. This year dancers from Mexico, Serbia, Poland and other parts of Italy danced on the outdoor stage in Piazza Roma. Incredible. Absolutely magical.
The August nights also resonate with music and movies. Comicron 2022 – 7th Edition, a three night festival of short comic films, is an annual event. Created by celebrated film director Ugo Gregoretti, it provides young film makers with an incentive see comic shorts as an art form. Check out the Pontelandolfo entry, Il Re dell’Oblio written and directed by Gianluca De Michele and featuring my cousin – Valerio Mancini!
You thought the festival was only a week? Actually, the official Pontelandolfo festival is about a week long. Notice, the other villages enticing us to leave our couches and venture forth. During the month in Pontelandolfo other events pop up . Who could resist this musical night –
I challenge you to join me next year and see every event! Here is the drill, we get to the piazza – If I am still walking – at about 8:30 PM and hunker down in our reserved table at Bar Elimar. Bar Elimar is directly across from the stage so we get great seats, food, drinks and conversation. Often, I leap out of my chair, being careful not to spill my Campari Spritz, and race into the crowd to get closer to the stage. At about 1:00 AM we walk up the hill to our car and head home. Now we are too jazzed to go to sleep. Repeat. We repeat this lifestyle for a bunch of days. Next? Sleep for a week.
Today, I am drinking water at my usual table and staring at the piazza. Tonight will be another late night. Maybe, I’ll head home, take a lesson from Jack and zzzzzzzzzzz. And you – rest up and get your body here next August!
So excited – Next Stage Press just released my Eastern Woodland Native American Play – “Many Snows Ago” in September! Elementary School teachers will love it. “Mamma Mia – La Befana?!” comes out in the fall. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of my book about life here, “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.”
” Why, I just put one foot in front of the other and keep on smiling.”
“No, but really what do you do? I mean it’s not like a vacation, or is it like a super long vacation? What do you do every day?”
Hmm, what do I do on a typical day in Pontelandolfo. Let’s take today. Just what did I do today. First I carried the laundry bag down the stairs, separated the lights and darks and then I did a load of wash. I used to wash our clothes by hand – no really – the first year we lived here every single day I would wash what was dirty from the day before an hang it outside to dry. I felt like I was part of village life. After that early morning chore, I would walk to Piazza Roma and see laundry flopping in the breeze all over town. Of course, that worked amazingly well when we were here in the summer. One Christmas, my sheets froze on the line. My fingers froze getting the frozen sheets. The dining room was draped in damp sheets. The dryer was delivered the next day. But today, the sun is shining and it is going to be hot, so just like all over Italy, the clothes are happily hung on the line. Here is breezy example.
Next stop, Piazza Roma for a cappuccino and a visit to Dr. Palumbo. Nothing tragic, I just needed a prescription refilled. A prescription that will cost me next to nothing in a copay. Seeing our primary care doc meant climbing the three flights to his office. I consider it exercise. Huffing and puffing as I entered the waiting room, I wheezed out, Buon giorno, Chi è l’ultimo? The person who is last in the cue raised a broken wrist. I sat down, caught my breath and then as I waited my turn, caught up with local gossip . After arriving sans an appointment – no one makes an appointment – I waited less than I wait to see my primary NJ doc. Hello Margarettttt, smiles Dr. Polumbo. Yup, without a nurse putting a file in a pocket with my name on it he knows who I am. He prints out the script, I say grazie and I’m off.
Down the steps and across the piazza to Farmacia Perone to fill my meds. That is always a pleasure. The entire family of pharmacists always seem to be smiling, offer a little chit chat, at laugh at my reaction to the low low prices. I grab my drugs, say ciao, buona giornata, and I’m off.
A quick dash into the Ferramenta where hardware store owner Nicola smiless broadly as he says Buon Giorno Midge. Of course I immediately forget how to say low energy fluorescent lightbulb. We both laugh and he points to the ligtbulb display. I get one and raced back to Bar Elimar for Jack who is now on his forth espresso.
Home for a quick change into a bathing suit and pool wear. We were off to spend the day at Queensley Country Resort. This place is a scant 10 minutes from our house and always makes me feel like my book Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos was picked up by HBO and I’m in LA. (Did you see how I just slid that plug in?). It is a truly glamorous place. Today, I swam laps in my not glamorous black tank suit. Everyone else was in a bikini. Everyone else was LA thin. After lunch, yes they serve lunch with real flatware. You can order a glass of wine and sit at a cloth covered table. Jack had his usual Caprese Salad and I had an l’insalatatone – big green salad with tuna. Don’t shrug your shoulders and sigh – you wanted to know what a typical day was like. This was my day.
Though there was some excitement today. We met a fairly large groups of folks from England. One couple of the group own a house in Compolattaro – the village next door to Pontelandolfo. Gerry and Jane plan on doing what Jack and I do – six months here and six months there. Listen up folks, there are houses for sale and this isn’t a bad place to perform your third act.
Speaking of acts, while I was at the pool a Facebook Messenger text popped up on my phone. It was Gene Kato from Next Stage Press. NO, THIS REALLY ISN’T A COMMERCIAL – THIS REALLY HAPPENED TODAY! Gene had done the dummy for the front and back covers for the play of mine he is publishing next. (He has already published two, “Many Snows Ago” is number three and this fall he is also publishing “Mamma Mia La Befana?!) So from the pool, like some hotshot millennial, I called Gene and we talked about the cover. OMG – what a day! Third acts like this are simply fabulous dahlink.
Tonight we are going to Sesto Senso for dinner. Who can cook after a day like this? I will be too tired to write about dinner – which starts close to 9:00 PM. Just know it will be yummy. Oh, and thank you for asking about my day.
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Or in this case a cinghiale – wild boar – with tusks. With the horse, the proverb meant – don’t start looking at his teeth to see how old it is. With the wild boar – I didn’t give a tinker’s damn how old it was as long as I can cook it. (Notice I slipped in another anachronistic saying. I’m in a literary frame of mind.) Wild boar is one of my favorite carnivoristic treats. (I just made the word up.) What is she rambling on and on about? Anybody heard from Jack? He needs to make her a martini.
I had a great day! A pal who is an ace hunter brought me a precious gift. Il collo parte del corpo del un cinghiale! The huge neck of a wild boar, cut up into precious meaty neck bones. Determined to make a sugo that would make my nonna proud, I went to work. Did I know what I was doing? I didn’t have a clue. When one doesn’t have a clue, it makes sense to ask a professional. Our local butcher, who makes great porta via, take away and cook at home pre-spiced and prepped meats, was just the person to ask. I asked him how to cook this monster neck. He looked at me quizicaly. “Do you really think you will like it?” I know I will like it. Every time I eat cinghiale at someone’s home or in a restaurant, I adore it, love it, want more of it.
Cripes, some of you are now sobbing for the poor wild boar whose life ended so abruptly. Here is the reality. Cinghiale are now becoming so prevalent that they are traveling through the streets of Rome waiting to take a bite out of a vegan tourist. The poor member of the pig family are mean buggers and seem to love to chase you off your own property. They no longer have many natural predators – I haven’t a clue why – and are over running Italy. My Texas cousins just told me they have the same problem there! If it were up to me, entrepreneurial young hunters would work out a deal with the country to hunt them, create great sausages, dried meats and meals with them and sell them to folks like me. Or if being benevolent, give the meat to the poor.
OK, we no longer feel badly. This particular cinghiale was observed harassing a family’s dogs, cats and young children. Now his neck is mine to cook. I was told, and being an A type personality, also read at The NY Times Food website, that I must marinate the boar in red wine and mirepoix. (That is a very fancy word that I always forget and ask my chef friend Kathy for. )
I chopped up in my food processor a very large onion, two fat carrots, two stalks of celery and celery greens – mirepoix. Into the largest stainless steel bowl I had that would fit in the now empty refrigerator went two bottles of really cheap local red wine and the mirepoix. (Actually, Annarita and Jack drank some of the wine and said it wasn’t bad. It cost €1, so a buck a bottle and not bad is a good deal. No one told me to fine chop the vegetables but it made sense to me.) I stirred it, added fresh ground salt and pepper to the mix and pored it gently over the cinghiale waiting to bath in another equally large stainless steel bowl. Why did she use a stainless steel bowl, you ask? My grandmother used stainless steel bowls for everything. There must be a reason. If you know, please leave a comment. The very drunk refrigerated boar languished in the marinade for about 14 hours.
The next day, I rough chopped onions and garlic. This was tossed in EVO – local olive oil of course – and sautéed. Wait, I forgot a step. The butcher said brown the bones first in a separate frying pan. Brown them until there was no liquid coming out of them. This really happened. Maybe wild boar drink a lot of water or like sponges soak up the wine. It took a while to brown them and a lot of liquid was released. When it stopped running, I added them to the big sauce pot and sort of browned them again with the onions and garlic.
Looking at all that red wine, rich with blended mirepoix, I had an epiphany – that was quickly collaborated by The NY Times cooking app. I tossed some of the wine blend into the pot and continued to turn the meat filled neck bones until that liquid had dissipated. then I just started making my grandmother’s sauce.
Yes, sauce – rich tomato sauce. In Flagtown, New Jersey it was sugo – sauce. (In case “gravy” insisters look it up on Word Reference, sugo also means gravy made with drippings from meat – NOT SPAGHETTI SAUCE.)
After cutting my hand manually smashing a can of peeled whole tomatoes into a mush, I tossed them in the pot. Not my hands, the squished tomatoes. Don’t worry, I switched hands and bled on the side until the tomatoes were in the pot. I used two giant cans of whole tomatoes, two big bottles of plain tomato sauce, and three normal sized cans of crushed tomatoes. As my grandmother did, I rinsed out each can with about a half of can of water and tossed that water in the pot too. Boing, it hit me – I had been saving the rinds from the great local cheese. Why not throw that in too? So I did. Also floating in the pot was diced basil, oregano, salt, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and a big handful of fresh parsley. In honor of my Aunt Cat, I didn’t chop it up. She always left it untied and whole.
The enormous pot simmered on the stove for approximately 6 hours. I cooked it until the meat was falling off the bones. The odor wafting through the house made me sing, dance and think about a play based on spaghetti sauce. When I couldn’t stand waiting another nano-second. I turned off the flame and using a spider – not the insect – that basket thing on a long handle – pulled up all the bones. To visually enjoy these delicious morsels, I gently laid the succulent meat encrusted bones on a white platter.
Waited four minutes and then burnt my fingers pulling the meat off the bones. YUMMMMY! The meat now shredded, I set aside to top the pasta.
Time for a reward! The spider crawled back into the sauce pot and retrieved the parsley! Like my Aunt Cat, I ate each green piece reverently and with joy! Parsley’s vitamin K is important because it helps blood to clot so my cut finger would stop dripping and contributes to bone health. Ironic hey? I’ll be eating those boar bones next.
I can honestly say, this was the best sauce that I have ever made. There are no pictures of the tagliatelle pasta doused in sauce and topped with strips of meat. There are definitely no pictures of my guests smiling as they slowly chewed, tasted and sighed. I always remember the picture after we have scoffed down everything on the table. If you can’t get wild boar, think pork neck bones! Enjoy.
Tis the season to enjoy the fava beans that miraculously appear at my door. Didn’t I just write about fava beans – anybody remember? Here in Pontelandolfo spring has more than sprung fresh produce. Gardens are lush and fava beans are growing everywhere. In two days they will disappear. That means peel them, cook them and eat them while you can. Yawn, sigh – again. I hate to yawn over free food that is full of vitamins, minerals and protein. More importantly, I’m told by local fava lovers, regularly eating fava beans may boost your immune system.
As I sat down to free the beans from a hundred pods, my cousin Carmela texted and announced that at 3:00 PM she was coming for an Aperol Spritz. She wouldn’t come alone. Yikes, aperitivo time is snack time. What do I have that could pass as a snack? Fava beans? I googled fava and found that people make spreads out of them. After reading a few recipes, I tossed my iPad aside and started experimenting. Here is my latest creation.
Peel a bunch of beans.
Toss them in water and boil them until the outer skin looks wrinkled. (About 5 minutes.)
Burn my fingers peeling off the wrinkled outer skin. You would probably wait until they cooled.
Look around for stuff to toss in the blender with them.
I had a beautiful “sweet onion”, garlic and tons of spices. First thing tossed in the food processor – what you thought I’d use a mortar and pestle – was half an onion. VVVVVVVRRRRRooom, my eyes were tearing but the onion was squished. How much garlic? Jack and I believe a head of garlic is the perfect amount for any dish. Since I was only making about a cup or two of dip, I tossed in two cloves. VVVVRRRRRooom. Done. Next the fava. VVVVVRRRRRooom – what the heck? It looked like some yucky chopped up yuck. Olive oil! Of course! I added some fresh local olive oil and looked around for herbs. Salt, pepper and – I had saffron! Saffron.
It smells OK but needed something. Something? Hot pepper? No, I hate super hot stuff. Then I saw the bowl of fresh lemons on the counter. Boing – of course – that would punch it up. I squeezed in half a large lemon and gave the food processor another spin.
Did I ever admit that I am a cook who never remembers to taste what I am cooking? Well, I won’t admit it now. I put the mush in a pretty bowl, surrounded it with taralli and crostini. Divine. Hmm, I wonder what it tastes like?
Cousins Carmella, Annarita and pal Maryann showed up for Aperol Spritz and lady language. “Midge, tu hai fatto vellutata!” Vellutata? Would it be crass to look the word up before I made the drinks? My green mush was apparently something quite chic! Vellutata!
After everyone had a sip of their Spritz – or was it a glass – we dipped into the vellutate di fava. OMG – it hinted of guacamole! Maryann, who is also American, said we needed Doritos or tortilla chips. There are no tortilla chips to be found but San Carlo makes a spicy little corn horn. My green mush was delicious! What a discovery. We drank, laughed and ate all the green mush – I mean vellutate di fava.
Oh, on a practical note. Carmella told me I didn’t have to peel and cook all the fava. I should freeze some for later. No, no, I said. On line it said you had to blanch them, toss them in an ice bath and generally spend too much time in the kitchen. She shrieked with laughter. Here in Pontelandolfo, women just toss the beans still in the pods in a zip lock bag. Work out all the air and toss them in the freezer! Damn! Who knew! Just another Monday in Pontelandolfo.
PS: Here comes a begagraph – that is a paragraph where I beg you to do something. Something so easy it is definitely peasy. This November I would like to fill my calendar with readings of my funny memoir meets travel guide book about living in Pontelandolfo and driving. A reading of Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos would be fun for all of us. Please pitch me to your bookclub, social club, Italian American club, local bar, library or bring me in as a guest to a class. When I am in New Jersey I love being busy. I also love acting out my work. So PLEASE FIND ME GIGS!