The Pizzagaina Caper

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum. (Opening music to a Bond film).

The first one turned up Friday morning. Could its humble crust and crescent shape hide a nefarious role? It was warm to the touch – ah ha! Warm made it even more inviting.  Do we dare cut it open and see what the flaky crust contains?

Looks safe enough – is that a quiche like filling?  I decide to investigate the mysterious arrival of unrequested pizzagaina further and head over to ace cook and my bestie cugina, Carmela Fusco’s house. Was bringing pizzagaina to a pals house a holiday custom?  Do they just magically appear?  As I climbed the steps, this incredible odor wafted down.  I picked up the pace and raced up the stairs.  From the exercise or the thought of tasting whatever food was causing that heavenly scent, my tongue was hanging out of my mouth.  I pushed open the door.

Permesso, I bellowed practically pushing Carmela aside before she could say, avanti.

There on her kitchen table were a stack of the crescents, hot from the oven and screaming to be eaten. 

I lunged for one.  She smacked my hand and explained, it was Good Friday, the day everyone makes the traditional Easter stuffed pastry, pizzagaina. But since they contain meat no one may eat them. 

What???  I thought the Catholic Church said it was OK to eat meat on Friday. Carmela looked at me and said, questo è il venerdì Santo.  Holy Friday, hmmm.  Diverting my attention from the great look and smell of the pastries, I asked how she made them.  She looked at me sternly and told me she made them the same way her grandmother made them and her grandmother wouldn’t let anyone eat them on Good Friday either.

The heart of the crust was not the flour – in today’s case whole wheat flour.  Nor was it the eggs, wee bit of salt and pepper.  The way to get a crunchy flakey crust is too make sure you have a pal who just butchered one of their hogs and gives you fresh lard. (Growing up in Flagtown my mom and nonna swore by lard too.) . Carmela had more than a liter of lard.  I could just imagine all the great crusts she would be making and hoped I’d get invited.

 

Like most of the great cooks in Pontelandolfo, Carmela doesn’t measure. She just knows how much flour, lard, egg, salt and pepper will work well together. The creamy filling I saw oozing out of the top of one of the pastries was egg, diced dried sausage (pepperoni), parmesan cheese and a local aged – stagionato – cheese. She said everyone made them the same way – with a wee bit of personalization. I had a deja vu moment when she told me her secret ingredient was an addition of a little cooked white rice. Shazaam, my Aunt Julie’s had added rice too. One of Carmela’s neighbors adds raisons another cooked fresh sausage.

Now, I am thinking quiche and runny egg so I demanded further information and asked how she got the egg goo not to run all over the table. By then her daughter, Annarita, had arrived and they both looked at me like I was stupider than a chicken. Actually, I think one of might have asked me if I was stupider than a chicken. You beat the eggs, add the diced sausage and then add so much cheese that you get a super thick filling that you can spread. OOOOHHHHH! Circles of dough are rolled. The filling is spread on half the circle – leaving about an inch margin. Then the unfilled half is folded over and the crescent is sealed by pinching the edges together.

Now can we taste one? I asked again with a winsome smile on my face. NO! they both shouted at me. If Jesus could suffer on the cross, we can spend one day without meat! With that they wrapped one up for me to take home and sent me out the door.

Wait, they wrapped one up for me to take home! It was still warm. The odor was so strong I wanted to shove the whole thing in my mouth. But I didn’t. I drove home. Only to find two more pizzagaina on my door step. Easter gifts from neighbors. Apparently, it is a custom. This is torture. I now have a counter full of delicious things that I am not allowed to eat! Then I got it! It was an evil plot to torture me and get the enticing things out of other people’s homes! Errrrrgggg. After pouring a finger of scotch, I started to rethink this caper. Was it really nefarious? Or was it an Easter lesson learned. I finally got it. Lesson learned and remembered.

Ci vediamo a presto! Buona Pasqua!

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Carmela is one of the ace cooks you can visit and learn from. There are still 2 spots left in the September 7-14 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.

Click here for more information! Or email info@nonnasmulberrytree.com

Easter Memories

I Miss the Crowded Table.

What is it about holidays that makes me leap back decades in time? Four year old Midge races around her grandma’s kitchen until big hands pick her up and plop her on top of a sears catalogue on a chair. Aunt Julie is at Nonna’s stuffing a pie crust with rice, chopped up dried sausage, pepperoni, other pork parts, cheese and a bowl of scrambled eggs. Aunt Cat sits rolling mountains of meatballs. Nonna, grandma, punching a bowl of dough down tells me to help with the meatballs. Uncle Sal grins from ear to ear as he wanders around the kitchen holding a recently cleaned chicken by the feet. Little girl me sitting and getting meatball yuck between my little fingers feels loved, safe and happy. My meatballs have a particularly odd shape – quite artistic. I knew that a bunch of people would be coming, the kitchen table would be made bigger and anything we could sit on would be dragged into the room. All the food piled in the middle of the table will disappear in a nano second and the talking, laughing and shouting will roar out into the street. Many Easters later, Jack and I would be living in that old Flagtown farm house. On Easter I wanted to reclaim those feelings. Truthfully, ever Sunday I wanted to be back in that kitchen. I still wanted to be surrounded by – well everyone. To make that happen, what does the woman with the organizer gene do every Easter until the once wee ones rolled their now adult eyes —

Family and Friends Like Family Annually Raced for Eggs.

The tykes who gathered eggs now have babies of their own. Time marches on and yet, somedays I actually feel myself back in the white farm house. Last week, the olive branches that were being hung all over Pontelandolfo reminded me that it would soon be Palm Sunday. That triggered a visceral need to reminisce and question myself. Why did Aunt Julie put rice in that egg and meat pie? She called it pizzagaina – gain a million pounds when you eat it. The pizzagaina I find in Pontelandolfo doesn’t have rice. It is kind of a quiche with a pie crust top. Pastiera di grano – a sweet ricotta, wheat berries and dried fruit pie delish dish – kind of looks like it has rice. Then it hit me! Zap! Aunt Julie used the rice to stretch the filling. My elders lived through the depression and when I was a child were still on the lower end of the financial spectrum. They taught us to use every piece of every animal, mineral or vegetable. Then again Aunt Julie was Sicilian. Maybe where she grew up the savory pie was made with wheat berries and in Somerset County NJ in the 1950s you weren’t going to find them. Sadly, I should have asked the question sooner.

It is spring in Pontelandolfo and the lambs, baby bunnies and baby goats are dashing about happily. Soon, lots of folks in the village will be happily eating them. As a kid in Flagtown, I don’t ever remember eating lamb or goat for Easter or any day. I think it was because it would have made Aunt Cat go ballistic. She often told the story of her parents raising goats. Actually, some Flagtownians called the Guerrera subsistence farm “Goat Patch.” Piccola Caterina loved those goats. They would follow her about, play tag and give her big kid hugs. Every year just before Easter Italians from the “big city” – you know places like Patterson, Jersey City or Newark – would come to Flagtown and buy their Easter meat. As soon as the cars pulled up the baby goats started to panic. Aunt Cat would get as far away as she could but said she still heard the cries that every spring broke her heart. She swore that those kids knew their time was up and cried all the way to the back of the barn. She hoped those city people choked on their dinner. So no goat meat for us.

Easter Sunday, mom would have always figured out a way to get us new hats and outfits. We went to the South Branch Reformed Church. WHOA you weren’t Catholic?? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. My grandfather caught a Catholic Priest flirting with my nonna and wooooosssshhh the Catholic Church became off limits. Besides, the South Branch Reformed Church was right down the road in the little village of South Branch. The village sat on the banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River and way back then still had the homes of famous folks like opera singer Anna Case, New Jersey Governor Peter Dumont Vroom and Diamond Jim Brady. For me it was a metropolis – there was an apartment house from the 1800s, Amy’s store and Post Office and lots of cute farm boys who came to buy soda or go to church. I still remember Sunday school, Easter Dawn Services and sitting on the front steps of the church because my mother forgot to pick me up. Sadly, the state was going to dam the river to build a reservoir so they condemned houses, Amy’s store and more. They never built the reservoir – errrrrg. Just f&*^ed up the area. Hmm, perhaps I should stop thinking about yesterday and look out the window at the Sannio Hills and start telling you all about the Easter Traditions in Pontelandolfo. I will – next week. I need to spend a few more moments in the past.

Buona Pasqua from the Guerrera Girls.
Ci Vediamo

It is not too late to plan your September 7 – 14th Trip to Pontelandolfo! We still have 2 spots open for the incredible culinary and cultural experience – COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO!

Snow Shut-ins

Can we talk? Sometimes life in my charming little Italian village makes me want to scream! Or if not scream, shake the powers that be until sense falls into place. It snowed. This is an anomaly here – especially in December. Last December it felt like fall. Those weather belts do keep changing. No one expects snow in December – maybe that is why I should have a kinder gentler feeling about… errrrrgggg.. that scream is bubbling up again.

We knew it would snow because I received numerous alerts from the town that said it might snow for three days – “make sure you have fuel for heat, food and something to keep you from going stir crazy.” Being from the North East of America where we scoff at snow, plows are out instantly and we drive in anything, I thought the alerts were a little over the top. NOT!

We had a house full of holiday guests and plans to go out and do holiday centered stuff – then it snowed. Day one – snow – about an inch – no one plowed or salted the local streets. OK, not a big deal. I know money is tight and we can drive over this. Downtown, no one had shoveled the sidewalks either. Hmmm, aren’t building owners responsible for that? Not a big deal – again only an inch. Local holiday events were cancelled and even worse news – restaurants were closed – hey, it was only an inch but still coming down.

A Gorgeous Inch of Snow Frosted the Mountains.

Day two – more snow – a lot more snow and we had to get my niece to the train station in Boiano. We heard the state highway was closed going west. Luckily, we had to go east. The local roads were not plowed or salted. Ice reigned supreme. We slowly left town and got to the highway. Now this is interesting. The highway in Campania was fairly clean and salted. The minute we crossed the regional line to Molise the highway had only been given one earlier pass with a plow, however the exit ramps were clean. Don’t the regions coordinate this stuff? We got to Boiano and back and cruised our village piazza. Nope, the sidewalks still had snow and ice and the piazza hadn’t been cleared. Shops were closed – I’m glad we had the necessities of life in the house – eggs, bread and wine.

Day three – lots more snow. I mean tons of snow. How would we get the last of our guests to their train in Benevento? Yesterday, the road was closed. First step, dig out the car. Done. Second step, dig out the top of the driveway near the unplowed road. Done. Third step – do we have to freakin’ dig out the street???? The train was due late in the afternoon, we figured we had some options. Sleds pulled by snow sheep sounded like the best idea. It stopped snowing – that was a good sign. Before the top of my head blew off, a back hoe started ambling up our road tossing snow off the middle of the street. Note, I said back hoe not a plow. He made a narrow path up the center of the road. We – OK not WE – Jack dug us to the center. We got in the car and wondered what we would find. Again, the state highway was pristine. The views were fabulous and since Benevento is at a much lower altitude it was an easy snowless drive.

Clean Highway and Luscious View

Later that afternoon when we got back to Pontelandolfo, we noted that the piazza still hadn’t been cleared and the sidewalks were awful. I asked about that and found out that building owners don’t have to clean in front of their buildings. So, obviously they don’t. Store owners only shoveled the boots width necessary to get into their shops. Don’t ya think it is time for a new piece of local legislation? The cobblestone piazza isn’t plowed, I investigated and discovered, one can’t plow on cobblestone – how about a snow blower or a shovel??? I don’t know the science but couldn’t they at least spread salt??? I do understand not plowing local mountain roads until it absolutely stops snowing – fiscal constraints and all that. BLEH, I really don’t but questa è la nostra vita.

There are somethings towns in Southern Italy do well. There are other things – not so well. The snow – well now I know – when you get the alert make sure you have heating fuel, food and lots of booze in the house. Jack just read this and pointed out – we did get wherever we needed to go. Get over it. Take a breath, look at the snow capped mountains and sigh at the beauty. Questa è Italia!

Ci vediamo!

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Buon Anno da Sesto Senso!

Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!   2018 seems to have galloped along the road of life bringing lots of good news, great friends and new vistas to explore.   Now, 2019 is guaranteed to be incredible – granting all of us health, happiness and good cheer.

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Jack and Midge glad to be part of the New Year’s party.

We greeted 2019 with family, friends, a bazillion courses of seafood, music, dancing and fireworks at Sesto Senso!  This great local restaurant tucked in a corner of Campolattaro (BN) tossed a rocking party.  Unlike the New Year’s Eve parties we have gone to in the states, the crowd featured party goers of literally all ages.  Babes in strollers to great grandparents danced to traditional music and rock and roll.  No one seemed to mind the wee ones giggling in their flouncy finery, twirling throughout the tables.

This is the first time we have ventured out on New Year’s Eve.  Last year we dined with family and friends too, but in our house and then raced to the Pontelandolfo Piazza to see the requisite midnight fireworks.  Not knowing what to expect, I encouraged our house guests Cindy and Les, my LA niece Alessandra and Pontelandolfo niece Annarita to come along for the ride.

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Alex and Annarita kept the wine and the laughter flowing.

 

The first hint that this was going to be a party that required our due diligence and staying power was the menu –

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The second hint included countless wine bottles that arrived full and seemed to empty and get replaced in nano-seconds.  Thank God we got to dance between courses.

The apertivo plates – lots of different fish but of course but I can’t remember what – were brought in to a musical fanfare!  Damn, this is just the apertivo tasting?  How will we get through all the courses?  We put on our big girl appetites and somehow we did.

Everything was presented so beautifully that for a scant moment we just stared, not wanting a fork to damage the look.

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Croccheta di Baccala – Almost too cute to eat.

At midnight we hadn’t quite made it through the menu, but that didn’t stop the bottles of prosecco from popping and the fireworks to start blaring.  We all raced out side to see the display.  Oooing and aaaahhhhhing I realized that the restaurant had organized the pyrotechnics. What a button to put on a great evening. But wait, we have more to eat – the night isn’t over!

Cotechino a pork based sausage and lentils are a traditional Italian New Year’s Eve course.  The lentils represent money that will be coming your way in the upcoming year.  We scarfed down those lentils – I actually made more the next day.  I wonder how many pounds of lentils I need to eat to get the cash for first class plane tickets??

2019 is firmly ensconced in our lives.  For each of us, that means it is time for a new adventure.  In 2019  I’ll be entering my seventh decade – gulp – my second act needs to be upgraded to include a chorus of triple threat actors to help me pull off my ongoing later scenes.  Hit me with my light – I’m ready for it!

Buona Fortuna!

Ci vediamo

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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.

 

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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