Secret Tomb Found!!!

Rinvenimento Tomba Sepolcrale – Discovery – Sepulchral Tomb

That was the headline on a statement circulated by the Comune di Pontelandolfo.  Italians have a great vocabulary. I had to use the Miriam Webster Dictionary for kids to understand the translation of Sepolcrale – Sepulchral – “relating to the burial of the dead – gloomy”– I would think being buried in an ancient tomb would be pretty dark and gloomy.  What is not so gloomy is why they issued a statement.  It was the precursor of some pretty exciting news.

On 21 Augusto 2018, in the Pontelandolfo section of Sorgenza, ScaPollici (the company putting mammoth wind turbines on our pristine hills) needed to bury conduits and began digging. I can almost see and hear the scene.

Vroom Vrrom VRRRRRRoooom, roared the backhoe.

“Che fa???? Whoa, what is that – a skull,” queried one of the guys watching the work.

“Cripes, whose it is,” asked the other guy standing and watching the work.

“Stop digging. Turn off the excavator. STOP. STOP. STOP DIGGING,” screamed the head guy standing and watching the work.

Someone alerted the police and the town. Our mayor promptly called the office of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the province of Caserta and Benevento. This office of the superintendent is the local office of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Cultualli e de Turismo (Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism.)  Quickly, State sanctioned archaeologists raced to Pontelandolfo and supervised the work at the location.  Immediately, the front loaders were silenced, and manual excavation began. Our diligent municipal administration was not only updated by archaeologists constantly, but also repeatedly checked out the on-site activity themselves.

The archaeologists dashed off a report to the superintendent.  Wham bam, work was suspended in the area and the local Carabinieri were dispatched to guard the location.

I had no idea this was going on and being a gossip hound, I am glad I didn’t. Our Mayor and Council, supporting the requests of the archeologists, kept the information about the site a wee bit secret. During the excavation, the mayor, with the press pressing for information and locals gossiping up a storm did as he was asked and zita, kept his mouth shut. The professionals feared that if a lot of publicity was blasted about the site unauthorized “Raiders of the Lost Ark” type folks might start digging. Historically, artifacts have been looted from the village.

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Now the site is secured.  Who was this little Roman baby? What were her parents like? Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

Now the word is officially out and it is incredible news.  A 90 cm by 120 cm tomb, presumably from the Roman era, containing the skeleton of an infant was uncovered.  The skeleton was subsequently preserved in a safe place.  The tomb was covered with steel plates and secured.  More archeological sanctioned excavation will occur later.

Why is this great news?  Where there was an infant there was a group of people!  The importance of this discovery not only brings a sense of historic pride to the community of Pontelandolfo, but also the archeologists confirm what we all thought – there was a presence here of an ancient civilization. This unleashes scores of opportunities!

According to city spokesperson Gabriele Palladino in Pontelandolfo News –

…in the pleasant and spacious plain there was once a prosperous and laughing Pag: The Pagus Herculaneus, or village of Hercules. This rural district of the ancient Roman territory, embellished with marble, glass, mosaics of frescoes, statues, temples, aqueduct, fountains and spas, had life in the Piana…

Now our administration is considering all of the possible opportunities this gives us.  Imagine the collaborations with major universities to create an archeological zone!  Or the development of a museum to exhibit newly uncovered artifacts and the items already available to us!  This is incredibly exciting to me.  I envision, yet another reason to visit Pontelandolfo.

Yes, this poor baby’s bones, kept hidden for hundreds of years, could represent a new beginning for a small village in the Sannio Hills

Ci Vediamo.

 

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He who knows the arts….

Cripes, look at the time, I bellowed.  Sweat was pouring off my brow and my clothes were frankly disgusting.  Rossella Mancini and I were setting up an art exhibit and had been collecting and cataloguing pieces all day.  The show would run for seven days and the opening was gulp – in two days.  We were juggling artigianale items – incredible hand loomed fabrics, straw woven into sculptures, wood carvings – with paintings by contemporary artists.  Our idea was to demonstrate how the traditional crafts of a community had a direct impact on the work of younger artists.

No, I screeched, leave her sitting at a table – wait, I’ll add one of the purses.

A painting, waiting to be placed, had been sitting on a little table and propped up on a column. With a little swatch of red cloth, a handmade purse and an empty chair, the painting of a young women in a bikini by Angelo Palladino became one of the “scenes” in the gallery.  Rossella and I were both racing around madly trying to get it all pulled together.  The program booklet?!  We need to design and write something and get it to the printer tonight.

I looked at my watch again.  We had seconds to run down the street to the book launch produced by a group of young friends.  As we raced down the block, from the opposite direction we could hear the tech crew setting up an outdoor stage.  Tomorrow night an International Folk Dance Festival opened.  

Good, there is a line to get in – No one will know we are late.  Cripes, I hope no one I know is here.

Looking like something the proverbial cat dragged in, I said hi to folks I knew and dropped into a seat.  Wow, I thought, the glitterati is out tonight. Not only was the audience well dressed, they all had come early – that must mean something “hot” is happening tonight. The performance space looked incredible – from the comfortable overstuffed turquise couch and coffee table on the stage, to the display of art photos by the incredible Salvatore Griffini, to the piano and guitarist primed to play – the tone was set for an interesting evening.  Taking a breath and hoping no one sat too close to me, I was hit in the head with the boing boing of an epiphany.  This very second, we could be anywhere the arts flourish – in a swank artsy neighborhood in Brooklyn or Downtown Manhattan or Chicago or Austin – BUT WE WEREN’T.  We were in a tiny little southern Italian village – Pontelandolfo.  A place where the young and the old make art.

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The evening was produced by “Liberia Tutti”, a group of young writers, actors, artists and musicians.  They had joined forces to produce the book launch in support of photographer, Salvatore Griffini, whose work was in the book. The evening hummed as Liberi Tutti embraced all art forms from vocals supported by piano or guitar, a Brechtian monologue superbly preformed by Gianmarco Castaldi, to a wonderful reading by the talented author Martina del Negro.  Frankly, the editor of the self-published book being launched spoke and I had to suppress my yawns.  Professor Renato Rinaldi, the driving force of the Pontelandolfo News was one of the highlights for me.  What he said reached into my heart and moved me to tears. I hope it will move you.

Chi sa musica, chi sa arte, che sa danza, chi sa teatro, chi sa letteratura, chi sa poesia, sa Pontelandolfo. He who knows music, he who knows dance, he who knows theatre, he who knows literature, he who knows poetry, knows Pontelandolfo.

The art show opened, dance companies from throughout Europe performed, bands

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Here I am moments before the opening.  I cleaned up pretty well.

played and the first week of August – Festival Week – tired us aging second actors out but reinforced the words of Renato.  He who knows the arts understands our little corner of the world.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

Creamy Yummy Zucchini

First a pal stopped by to say hi and offer me some garden goodness – zucchini just picked.  Then my neighbor Zia Vittoria walked in with an apron full of – you guessed it – zucchini just picked.  Not wanting to be ungrateful for the bounty, I hugged each zucchini carrier and said “I can’t wait to cook this.”  Then I walked into my kitchen and added the zucchini to the growing pile on the counter.  “Jack,” I bellowed, “tonight all we are eating is zucchini.”

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Like an early explorer, I searched high and low for yet another way to use this abundance of zucchini.  Nope, no more batter fried zucchini.  Nah, not interested in zucchini bread.  Yuck, I have done the turn it into spaghetti strands and pretend it is full of carbs.  Boing!  Then I remembered I had read a super easy and great looking recipe on FaceBook.

You know how people like recipe pages on FaceBook, you read them for a nano second and then can never find them again?  That really, hasn’t happened to you?  I had remembered seeing this recipe liked by a couple of foodie friends. It required tossing the zucchini with eggs.  Not a scrambled egg dish or a frittata or an omelet but a creamy yummy looking zucchini dish.  Could I find the recipe again?  Did I remember the name?  Did I remember the names of the foodies who liked the page?  NO!

I did remember the pictures!  Paper thin slices of zucchini in a frying pan and a hand pouring some melted butter and olive oil on them. A pot of broth on the stove and a scoop. Egg scrambled with parsley. A half a lemon being squeezed.  Parmesan cheese.  Now, what order were those pictures in???

Off I went to try to recreate the creamy yummy zucchini recipe. Yup, I made some mistakes, but that made the evening interesting.  I would have taken pictures but my hands were busy.

  1. Cut thin slices of the zucchini – leaving the skin on for the cool green color.
  2. Dump the slices in a frying pan.
  3. Melt a wee bit of butter and add a wee bit of olive oil. Then toss this over the top of the zucchini and mix it up. My first mistake was too much oil and butter.  When the zucchini cooked down there was too much liquid .  A little amount is plenty.
  4. Sauté the zucchini for a wee bit and had about 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Again, I screwed up with my “more is always better” mindset.  I used about 1 cup and had to drain the soggy things.
  5. When the zucchini is almost cooked, toss on some fresh ground pepper and salt.
  6. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon and strain out the pits and pulp.
  7. Beat 2 eggs with thinly chopped parsley.  For sure only 2 eggs – the picture showed two yolks. When it is frothy, toss in the lemon. I thought that the lemon would make it curdle or do something weird.  But it didn’t.
  8. Think spaghetti carbonara!  Stir the beaten egg, parsley and lemon mixture into the cooked zucchini. Make sure there is not a lot of extra liquid! Remember my over liquid mistakes.  How did I rectify it?  I made a second batch with hardly any liquid. Two days later I made a third batch – yes I am binging on this dish.  Thinking outside the box, I got out the colander, tossed the cooked zucchini in it and let it totally drain. Then I put it back in the frying pan and added the egg mixture.  Voila!  It was magic.
  9. Now, toss a healthy handful of Parmesan cheese into the mixture and serve.

I don’t have a picture.  I know it sounds strange – but I was in comfort food heaven.  It was the Mac and Cheese of vegetables and didn’t have hardly any bad stuff in it.  Why am I writing this?  So that I remember what I did and can make it again tonight, next week and whenever I want Creamy Yummy Zucchini.

Ci Vediamo!

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Political Season – Huzzah!

How can I not be excited! It it a political season and I am a political junky. Proudly as Democrats abroad, Jack and I voted in the New Jersey Primary absentee and early. Now, we get to vote again in the Pontelandolfo local election. Politics is in my DNA!

Rossella Mancini For City Council

Hoorah, we get to vote for Rossella Mancini, our cousin and the other force behind the Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program. Those of you that know my family or have followed me for a while, know that politics really is in our DNA. Tante anni fa, my nonno, with a group of other Italian immigrants, started the Flagtown-Hillsborough Democratic Club. My dad, John Guerrera, was a democratic icon in Somerset County, NJ, serving as Mayor of Hillsborough, on a variety of boards including the Board of Elections and Tax board, the Executive Director of the County organization and a political operative for many national and state wide campaigns.

Dad’s Head Shot for his Senate Run

That means when I was old enough to lick a stamp and close an envelope, I was involved in a bunch of political stuff too. It was addictive.

Politics in Pontelandolfo reminds me of the door to door campaigns that my Dad ran in the 1960s and 70s and that I ran in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a kinder gentler kind of campaigning and one that truly engaged the electorate. Here, campaigns by law are limited to 30 days. HEAR THAT USA ONLY 30 DAYS OF POSTERS, PHONE CALLS AND ADVERTISING. What a welcome change.

Rossella, accompanied by friends and family has been visiting homes, talking about the platform of her ticket and getting honest – historically they have been honest – responses. Here, folks will actually tell you they will vote for you, or if not, who they intend to vote for and why. I have been with her on some of these house calls and actually heard a pal of mine tell her that he liked her a lot but was voting for his other pal’s son. Talk about a divergence from the American system.

Having lived in Asbury Park, NJ before they changed the form of government, I sort of understand how it works here. Every 5 years, someone who wants to be sindaco – mayor – asks 10 people to join him/her on La Lista. The 10 people on the list could become the consiglio, council-people. Here is the rub – only 7 will serve. The other three spots will be comprised of the minoranza – people from the loosing tickets who were top vote getters for their ticket. Each of the voters in a city of 15,000 people or less – we have way less – only get to vote for one person. The cumulative total of all votes cast for people on one list, determines the winning list. Automatically that person who is denoted as sindaco becomes the mayor and the top 7 vote getters are on the council. The other three – out of luck. What does that mean? It means, if you want to have a seat at the table, you have to get more votes than other people on your ticket!

Now this is PC – voters in towns with more than 15,000 residents can vote for two people and one – by law – must be a woman! Huzzah! The law is called Quatarosa and recognizes how few women were represented in local government. It truly was an old boys club. The list that Rossella is on has three women on it.

There is another piece of the election that I find difficult to understand.  If I were a pazillionaire, I could swing an election. The most recent census says that Pontelandolfo has 2,288 residents, including children, and 3082 registered voters! WHAT!!!! That is 794 more voters than residents. Normally, about 1500 people – who are actual local residents – vote in local and federal elections. The rest of the registered voters could be young people working in other parts of the EU or some of the thousands of Pontelandolfese who immigrated to Waterbury, Connecticut or Montreal or Argentina. Shazam, it looks like they never purge the voter’s list. Absentee voting is not allowed. For a local election you have to physically be in Pontelandolfo, make your way to the polling place, write your candidate’s name in a blank and wander to the local bar or home to wait for the results.

What this literally means is, if I could charter a plane with my 500 best East Coast Pontelandolfese pals and they accepted my free ride so they could vote in the local election, one could change the outcome. Like I said, SHAZAM!

The other piece that is strange to us New Jersey voters, is that if a race is uncontested – only one list is formed – there is no election. Someone from a higher level of government will come in an appoint your officials. No uncontested elation’s here – even if second list is composed of smoke and mirrors.

There is so much I have to learn about politics, life, traditions and culture. Guess I need to hang out here for a few more years.  Meanwhile, this Sunday, I will be voting for Rossella Mancini for city council!

Ci vediamo! Vote early and often!

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“But What Do You Do”

If during my stay in Italy, I had a nickel for everyone who has asked me, but seriously what do you do everyday? I’d be able to fly first class. When I’m feeling snarky I quip back, live, put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking. When the nice Midge is available, she might actually describe a day. This morning nice Midge egged on the writing.

Typical day – dash out a comment when you realize your days are equally exciting.

7:30 errrr, groan I got up because my phone reminded me I had a date with our personal trainer.

7:45 Checked e-mail. (Just like you do.) Saw one from my USA Italian teacher, Marina, she was concerned that I may have felt the earthquake that rocked nearby towns. Yesterday, when the earthquake was quaking, it was an Italian holiday. We were having lunch with a group of pals when our host’s phone rang. Her cousin called to see if she was OK. We didn’t know there had been a nearby earthquake. Now, we had been drinking a wee bit of wine but we didn’t feel a thing. We were lucky it was not closer to home. I let Marina know we were fine. The rest of the e-mails could wait.

8:15 I stare into the refrigerator waiting for breakfast to fly into my mouth. Put the kettle on for tea and made an egg and turkey sausage mess in a pot. It was yummy.

8:45 I tossed a load of laundry in the lavatrice. Yawn.

8:50 Jack and I walked out the door to an incredible sunny day. We both paused, stared at the mountains for a nanosecond and got in the car.

8:55 Arrive at the towns aging and almost roofless palestra. Got out of the car and stared at the valley. The views here never get old. For the very first time we both heard the river flowing below.

9:00 Texted our trainer we were there. (Questa è l’Italia.)

9:05 Walked through the dusty moldy basketball style aging gym to the training room.

10:05 Exited training room clutching my aching butt.

10:06 Got a text from the head of the library about what I needed for my middle school theatre class. I’m using theatre to reinforce English language skills and get a chance to keep my theatre chops active. Class starts Friday – do I plan now or …..

10:07 Responded that I just needed the door opened 1/2 hour before the class. (Remember questa è l’Italia.)

10:10 Got home, hung the laundry, poured a glass of water and thought, this is a fairly typical day. Did I mention that hanging the laundry means staring at a mountain range?

Put a second load of laundry in.

11:08 Opened Mango Italian Language Course on my iPad. Thanks to the Somerset County Library System this super good course is free. Whaaaat – I got something wrong. ERRRGGG. “Lontano – far and distante – far away”. Does it really matter which word I use???

Noon Jack left to do what only “mad dogs and Englishmen do in the noon day sun” – walk ! That means I make sure I have an extra battery for my phone and toss the worry beads in my purse. I drove down to the village. First stop – the covered market to get vegetables from the trucks. Rats! It’s Thursday. They don’t come on Thursday. Next stop – our local Conad – the tiny version. I dashed in, stood next to the display of vegetables and waited for the smiling cashier to come over, choose the veggies for me, weigh them and put them in a sack. €3 later I walked out with onions, zucchine, red pepper and a melon. (Prices like these are one of the reasons we live here.) The lady before me went to pay and was €5 short. If that had been me in the USA, I would have fainted dead away and prayed for someone I knew to revive me and give me the cash. Here the cashier laughed and said it bring it later!

12:30 Enter the writers room- OK – I don’t really have a writer’s room. I go to Bar Elimar on Piazza Roma, grab a pot of tea, and set up my IPad mini on an outdoor table. That is what I usually do. Today, my balls were bigger than normal. To sit in the shade, I put my drink on a table filled with men, dragged a chair over and said posso? They said sure and I sat and listened. The dialect still strains my ability to understand. But I tried. They all left 10 minutes later to go home for lunch. This is the perfect time of day for me to sit, stare at the piazza and try to toss a word or two around.

Afternoon

Made and ate salad for lunch.

Prepped dinner. Making Drunken Pork – pour red wine over a pork roast, toss in potatoes, carrots and onions and put on a very low flame. Done.

Worked on material for my first theatre class.

Worked on material for a meeting with one of our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo translators.

Met with translator.

Evening

Asked Jack if it was time to go to the piazza for an aperitivo. It was. We went. White wine for Jack Campari Spritz for me

Ate Drunken Pork – since we were a little loopy it was perfect.

Read a few more chapters in our Club di Libro book, Uomini o no.

Sipped scotch.

Wrote blog.

Buonanotte.

Our lives are just like your lives. We just live in the cool Sannio Hills of Southern Italy. You could live here too!

Ci vediamo!

You too can come to Pontelandolfo! Join us for Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events.

Every Day is a Great Day

This morning the buzzzzzzzz sang out on the lavatrice and my first thought was merde. My tea was piping hot and I haven’t finished my collezione. Why did I toss the clothes in the washer before breakfast! Now,if I didn’t take the clothes out of the washer they’d be a wrinkled mess. I went to the washing machine, plopped the clothes in the basket, hipped the door open and headed out to the line. The clothes line faces a mountain that was as green as green could be. I took a breath of clean mountain air, started hanging the clothes, looked up at the sky and said, thank you for this.

My next morning chore was to take a shirt back to the lavanderia. Jack is very particular and only wears cotton dress shirts. Yesterday, when I picked up his shirts one of them wasn’t cotton and definitely wasn’t his. What a drag. (Insert sad face.) Now… (Insert Sigh Sound.) I have to drive back to the next town. Grumbling about why couldn’t Jack speak enough Italian to take his own shirt back, I buckled up and pulled out of the driveway. A few minutes later, I took an even bigger breath – the village of Morcone was a swath of color oozing down a mountain side. The drive there was spectacular. A blue sky over the reservoir, mountains bursting with color, farmers cleaning around their olive trees – how could anyone be pissy surrounded by such amazing beauty.

The entrepreneurial young woman who opened the lavanderia was all smiles and happy to find the right shirt. As a matter of fact every shop I went into this morning was a happy place. What makes it even more special is that everyone knows my name. Living in a teeny tiny village next to a slightly bigger village – making that village just plain tiny – means that in a nano-second everyone knows everyone else. It is kind of special.

Every day, I’ve learned to say thank you to God, Goddesses and the Universe. Cause – no matter what – when you live in the Sannio Hills of Southern Italy- every day is a great day.

Ci vediamo!

Not to late to sign up for 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo!

Names – Connections to our Past.

As I move from continent to continent, I often tap into my philosophical self.  Maybe the air pressure in the plane makes my head woozy doozy or maybe, just maybe, flying from New Jersey to Italy provides me with the quiet time to reflect on what is important or not.  A few years back, I lobbied to get a street in Flagtown, NJ named after my family.  Some folks looked askance at the concept and told me that sticking your name on something was pretentious.  Actually, they said it was *&^%! stupid.  I beg to differ. Who we are and what we have become is based on those who came before us.  What better way to help those who come after us to discover their heritage than with a named place and all it connotes.  It becomes a visible touchstone to the past.

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A year or so ago, my friend Dr. Adele Gentile, invited me to an event that was a link to her past and the history of Morcone – the village next door to Pontelandolfo.  We went to the dedication of a Morcone Library section named for her dad, Dr. Girolamo Gentile.  I was touched to be invited and honored to go.  Also, I had seen her dad’s and her last name on streets and buildings in both Morcone and Pontelandolfo and wondered just who this man was. Her father, as you can see by his name on the  walk-in clinic wall,  was incredibly loved and respected as a doctor by the citizens of Morcone and the area.  People tell me he was a “doctor of the past.”  The Doc who went out in a blizzard to make  house calls and took care of everyone equally.  I also discovered that night that Dr. Gentile was intuitive and did everything he could to help his patients. If that meant find them shoes to go to school or wood for their stove, he would do that too. An avid reader and perpetual student he left a huge collection of books dealing with medicine, science, fiction, non-fiction etc. Adele and her brothers donated them to the Morcone Library.  It made sense to name a section of the library after Girolamo Gentile, not only because of the wealth of information shared in the books but because he was an incredible force in a community and should be remembered.  Justifiably, the library was packed the night of the dedication. People swapped tales about Dr. Gentile. We hope that medical professionals of the future will ask who he was and take a lesson in going the extra mile for a patient.

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All over Pontelandolfo there are streets named after people.

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OK, my great grandmother’s surname was Rinaldi, but that is not why I chose this picture. The Rinaldi brothers were massacred during that heinous night, August 14, 1861, when in the name of Italian unification,  hundreds of Pontelandofese  were killed in their sleep.  We hope that when visitors see the names of the streets in Centro Storico they might ask a question or too.  Before becoming involved in my little village I had no idea that Southern Italy wasn’t enthralled with unification. The mass slaughtering could be a reason.  That sure as heck wasn’t in my American history books.

At this point you might be wondering why I felt it was important to get at minimum a street in Flagtown named after my family – Guerrera.  The specific location is particularly meaningful because my grandparent’s subsistence farm was just a spit away.  Actually, I grew up on a piece of their property across the street.

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May 4, 2015 Ribbon Cutting and Opening of Guerrera Court, Flagtown, NJ 2015

Guerrera Court is specifically named in honor of my pop, former Hillsborough Township Democratic Mayor, John F. Guerrera and Flagtown Postmistress, my life saving aunt, Catherine Guerrera.  To me that sign honors all of us Guerreras who lived, worked and contributed to our community.

I orchestrated that the ribbon be cut by former Republican Mayor, Bill Jamieson.  During the 1960’s, Jamieson and my dad served the township from different sides of the political aisle, often arguing vociferously at meetings and then heading  to Farley’s Tavern in Flagtown to share a drink and strategize for the good of the community.  According to Jamieson, “John was a progressive leader who moved boulders to bring Hillsborough into the 21st century.”

My dad was a powerful force and cut a bella figura!  A Democratic operative, he was active in county, state and national campaigns.  He is credited with starting our community police force, seeing that sewers were installed, a Municipal Utilities Commission  formed, zoning  updated and lots more.

Born in Pontelandolfo, Italy, my resilient aunt, Catherine Guerrera, had contracted polio at 2.  She, my grandparents and uncles immigrated to America. In 1926 they bought a 15-acre subsistence farm in Flagtown.  After graduating from Somerville High School in 1933, Aunt Cat discovered that jobs for the handicapped were limited. My ballsy aunt sat down and penned a letter to then First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Zap!  The letter was answered. The Roosevelt Administration assisted in her having numerous operations done by the famous Dr. Kessler himself. She was later appointed the first postmaster of Flagtown and paid only a commission. Her tenacity and work ethic built the post office to first class status.

Now as folks buy a house on that street or drive by they might just wonder who that family was.  It is a visible link to our community’s past. They might ask the who, what, where and why.  I know I would.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagliatelle and Rock n Roll

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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!)

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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!