Fried Basil

Some days it is almost spring-like.  Others are so freakin’ cold that I want to stay under the covers.  On those winsome warm October days, I have been walking and weeping over all those fresh garden herbs that are now just sticks of their former selves.  It seems like only a moment ago, I was savoring something unique – fried basil!

One hot summer day, as she often does Zia Victoria arrived with a plate of fried something or other.  (We are blessed to live on a working farm next door to a contadina who is a great cook and likes to share.).  I guessed that it was probably zucchini or eggplant or zucchini flowers or even just little savory bits of fried dough.  She looked at me, I looked at her and we both looked at the plate.  Steam was still rising off these narrow lightly battered yummies.  Wait – why is green peaking out?  What is this stuff?  She wouldn’t answer and told me to taste it. Wow, it was something so much better than I expected. Fried basil leaves – who knew you could do this.  Never in a million years would I have ever thought of frying giant leaves of basil! When basil overruns the garden most of us pick the leaves, toss them in a Cuisinart with oil, garlic and some type of nut.  The resulting pesto gets popped in the freezer for a hint of summer in the winter. Well that’s a great activity. But during the summer when the plants are creeping skyward full of leaves, why not just eat the leaves? Fresh basil has its own interesting taste a little sweet, a little bitey, a little perfect. When it’s married with a very fine coating of a simple batter – she told me it was just flour, eggs and milk – it becomes something wonderful.  I tried it with GIANT basil leaves – small ones turn to mush -seltzer and flour – kind of like a tempora – and that worked too.  The oil was really hot and they were done in a second.

Fried Basil

Zia Vittoria, my nonna and most of the elders in Pontelandolfo use everything they grow.  No part of an edible plant or animal gets tossed. (Remember my story on pig parts and weeds?)  As I was scoffing down this great snack or appetizer, the crunchy unique taste sent me back in time to 1950s Flagtown.  Growing up – nothing was wasted. Before anyone was allowed to cut the lawn, we had to scavenge for young dandelions.  Tossed in a salad, sautéed with onion or eaten with cheese and chunky bread the green was something to forage and enjoy.  Wild herbs like camomile and fennel were found in the nearby woods and hung to dry.  As a kid, I hated this stoop labor.  Cripes, I wanted to be rich enough to just go buy the freakin’ stuff.  In my artsy hippy dippy days, I baked my own bread, foraged and thought how I was an earth mamma.  I don’t know when it happened but one day, I found myself throwing out unopened food that had rotted in my refrigerator and not giving it a second thought.  As I worked more and more, this careless tossing became a regular thing. I would casually toss out clothes that no longer fit or I felt fugly in.  Next thing I knew, I was one of those conspicuous consumption folks who had to have….

Here we are in our second – or is it third – act and I’ve come full circle. I’m living on a working farm, eating animal parts that most people stick up their noses at and realizing that the Nonnas and the Zias of the world have the right idea.  Don’t waste a thing.  Share when you have an abundance and don’t race around buying what you don’t bloody well need.

Damn, how could all that come from tasting a simple dish like a fried basil leaf?

Ci vediamo!


Come Cook in Pontelandolfo!  We are registering for our May 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo Now.  CLICK HERE to find out more.

 

 

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They Came to Cook and Conquered a Village

In a small town, like Pontelandolfo, everybody knows your name. Tweens in a dark alley getting into something that they shouldn’t, don’t think it is such a good thing. “Second act’rs” like Jack and I living in a new place, find it magical. Whenever we go into the piazza we know we’re home. Folks say salve – hi, come stai – how are you, smile and wave. When we first started staying long-term in Pontelandolfo, going to the piazza was kind of like going to the high school cafeteria on the first day of school.  Who would I sit with?  Who would talk to me?  I don’t know how it happened but we too became part of the fabric of life here.   What struck me this past Saturday, was that every time a group of adventuresome cooks come to Pontelandolfo to be part of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo they too quickly become part of our village’s life.

For three years the homes, citizens and businesses of Pontelandolfo have opened their doors and hearts to strangers looking for a different tourism experience. These strangers aren’t strangers very long.  Relationships are formed in nanoseconds. I know that the relationships are strong because I see the tears when folks depart. I read the FaceBook posts as connections are kept.  Love – the feeling of love is everywhere.

This latest group jumped right into village life with that first night “bar crawl.” They met bar owners, bar goers, politicos and curious folks. Pontelandolfese out for their evening passeggiata got a look at them. What troupers, having snacks and drinks at not one but all three bars on our piazza. It was obvious to all who met them that they were really interested in Pontelandolfo, our home town.

Tourists often pop in and out of Piazza Roma, take a picture of the iconic tower and dash off. The seven day commitment that both these latest and our past Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo participants made,  meant that the visitors wanted to have a meaningful encounter with not only the food of Pontelandolfo but also the community. They became regulars at the bars, chatted up everyone, played with the children, cooked and ate with families, visited with our baker, cheesemaker, butcher, listened intently as an elder craftsman talked about weaving fabrics as his great grandfather did – all this endeared them to the community.

Now if you know me, you know I wear my emotions on my sleeve and tear up often. When something really touches my heart, I not only tear up but am speechless – cause talking is impossible. There were many times during our cooking programs when I couldn’t speak. I have seen love crossing economic lines, ignoring politics and breaking down cultural barriers.

Some of our guests have had a root of their family tree here in Pontelandolfo.  They came not only to learn traditional Pontelandolfo cooking but to discover more about their past.  Our first group, three years ago, visited the Contrada (little village) of their ancestors and felt the connection that only blood returning to its source can bring. One of this past week’s women had ancestors from Pontelandolfo.  At the B&B she discovered a couple that knew her  distant cousin.  They embraced her and took her to see where her family was from. She was full of stories and felt the spirit of Pontelandolfo.

The women who open their homes to these strangers are so warm and loving that it is impossible not to feel welcome.  They have been touched as these strangers, who are strangers no more, have bought them gifts from their home states or made them something special.  A young female ship’s captain just presented each teaching cook with little dream catchers she knotted and wove from one long piece of ship’s string. Those little catchers will be holding a lot of love.

Everyone always pitches in as meals are being created, parties started or excursions planned.  I can see men and women of all ages flicking tablecloths, setting places and carrying dishes.  I also saw them carry wood from outside for wood burning ovens, making brooms from the sambuca tree and washing hundreds of dishes. This May, a female Broadway sound engineer, even fixed the butcher’s sound system. That meant that music flowed during our last night party. All of these actions felt like the actions of family members not recent strangers or guests.

Some of our visitors have even made sure that children’s books in English were added to our community library.  Since everyone must study and pass an English proficiency test this was a fabulous and thoughtful gift.

Children, twittering with stage fright,  who in traditional dress, performed stories from the town in English, have been cheered like movie stars.  Our guests have loved the challenge and work that these little actors put into sharing stories about their town.

I thank all the culinary tourists over the years, for bringing a tear to my eyes and silence to my mouth. I thank them for being willing to experience a small southern Italian village. I thank them for accepting us for who we are. I thank them for being who they are. I thank them for making me understand that love and food break down barriers!

Huzzah to those who came, cooked and conquered our hearts!

Cooks 4 sessions

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo II

Saturday, September 3 to Saturday, September 10, 2016

Join us for the Second Session of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

The May 2016 cooking classes were a smash hit.  The Pontelandolfo women who lovingly opened their homes to American women this spring want to do it again!  They hope women from all over the world will come to love their little village.  Don’t think about it – just come and live the life of a Southern Italian.

The May video says it all better than I can –

Included Highlights:

  • Transportation from the Benevento Train Station to Pontelandolfo
  • 7 nights, single room, with television, refrigerator, morning caffè and coronetto. Five rooms in this cute B&B have private baths.  A two room suite share a bath.  Il Castello
  • Welcoming apertivo and snacks in a local bar. All the cooks will be there!
  • Sunday Pranza (lunch)
  • 5 Cooking Classes with local cooks culminating in eating with the families. Each pranza is complete with first and second courses, local wine, dessert, after dinner drink, coffee and conversation!
  • English Speaking Translator for all classes and events.  Translators in other languages can be made available for a group of 5 or more.
  • Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner
  • Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products and other activities.
  • Excursion to Altilia Roman Ruins   http://www.sepino-altilia.it/
  • Walking Tour of Historical Pontelandolfo – http://www.pontelandolfo1861.it/
  • Excursion to the museums and shops of Benevento
  • Transportation to a different local restaurant each night.
  • Apron
  • Written recipes in English. (If a group is not English speaking other translations can be arranged.)

This culinary adventure is limited to 10 people.  We have a 5-person minimum.

This adventure wouldn’t happen without the commitment and support of Pontelandolfo Città Martire Associazione Culturale and il Sindaco Gianfranco Rinaldi.

Air Emirates has had some terrific sales from JFK – New York to Milan!  We booked last year two seats for $900 – $450 a piece!  Keep an eye on their sales.

Air Meridiana flies from JFK directly to Naples!  It is relatively inexpensive.

Contact me via the comments section for particulars and with any questions, thoughts or just to say hi.

Ci Vediamo!

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo a HIT!!!!

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Mary, Leona, Ellie, Lynn, Dana, Flora, Charleen and Nancy
Cook in the Kitchen’s of Pontelandolfo!

WOW what a jam packed week of great food, incredible women and a village that opened its hearts and buildings to embrace the Americans who came to Cook in the Kitchen’s of Pontelandolfo! The families that opened their kitchens loved the experience so much that we are going to offer the program again this September.

I had this fantasy that every night I would regale you with the tales of what happened that day.  Who the women were, what we learned how to cook, what we ate, what, what, what….  Sigh…. I tried, I really did but at the end of the day all I could do was crawl into bed and get ready for the next day’s adventure.  Oooo – how could you think I didn’t try – look here is a couple of paragraphs on Day 1!

Le Donne Vengono Oggi

Hotel ready – check!  Wait – will they be hungry?
Rosella remembered that if people were coming at 1:00 PM they would need lunch. We raced to Il Forno and bought panini and cookies. Then on to the fruit and vegetable truck for tons of fresh fruit. Then on to the the Mini Market for water, plates and napkins. Then on to the B&B – for – for – Waiting.  We set up our welcome table and our swag bags and waited.  The five women from Rome didn’t get here when we thought they would. Jack and one of our translators, Annarita were sitting in front of Bar Elimar to flag them down. I was afraid they would be drunk by the time the women came.  Rats – it is 2:00 PM – where are they?   2:10 – Jack called – they are here!

What a great group of women! An extended family full of love, laughter and spark. We got folks settled in their rooms making sure that Mary – the groups catalyst – had a great room with the mountain view. Within minutes she had posted the view on Facebook. Yes!


Nicola had taken our slick 9 passenger Ducati Fiat plumino to Benevento. He was waiting for the two women from Milan via Naples. My stomach was in knots hoping that they made their connection in Naples – I’m guessing since they only had 20 minutes that their stomachs were in knots too. Rossella was calm. I was pretending to be calm. Finally, I got a text. They are here! Then I got a call – we are in a bar waiting for the passenger from Firenze via Rome.

Meanwhile, I did my dancing bear act and reviewed the agenda with the first group – encouraged them to eat the fruit, cookies and sandwiches – even though they had stopped on the highway. Rosella said I was very professional!

That is all I wrote in 16 days!  Me who is the blabber blogger only wrote a measly few words.  What I did do was shoot lots of video on my fancy HD video camera, scribbled frantic notes during every cooking lesson and made sure that the eight adventurous American women who wanted to live the life of a small Southern Italian village had a great time.  I promise that recipes will be posted, videos will be edited and you will all know more about this glorious week.  Here is a quick little video that highlights our wonderful First – Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo week. (There is more to read after the video.)    Click Here For Video

Stolen from the Pontelandolfo News who stole them from Facebook – are what some of the women said about the experience –

Dana got an “A” for best sausage making! We started out with a side of pork and culminated into a delicious meal!! Grazie Mille Franco and Maria for opening your home and hearts to us.

I am in awe learning how to roll dough for pasta. No words needed. Grazie Maria!

Each day our hearts are filled with the love of the women of Pontelandolfo. Today, group A spent the day with Carmela Fusco, who we knew we loved before we met her, because her daughters have been helping us all week. We made homemade cavatelli with a meat sauce, eggplant with fresh tomatoes, fruit salad and a beautiful nutella pastry! 

Today we made pizza in the brick oven with Nicola and tiramisu. He is a very special man and made our last day a perfect one. I think we were all a little tired today, but we still ended on a high note at his beautiful home. Grazie Mille Nicola!

Tonight we must say goodbye to all the wonderful people we’ve met.
Midge Guerrera has given us the opportunity to become a part of the beautiful town of Pontelandolfo for a week and we are forever grateful.

It has been an amazing week and anyone who has been following us should seriously consider coming when Midge offers this again. The village has embraced us with open arms and lots of fun.

Now, how could I not announce right here for the very first time – the Second Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo adventure will be September 3 – 10 2016!  This fall – imagine Labor Day Weekend here in Pontelandolfo!  For information leave a comment.

Ci vediamo!