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!

______________________________________

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

An Experiment with 4 Suitcases

How can we possibly need all those suitcases??

What were we thinking dragging four – count them – four empty suitcases back to the USA? Well not exactly four empty suitcases. Jack has filled one to the brim. I leave clothes on both continents and am happy to schlepp nothing.  Why empty suitcases?  So that I can fill them with household goods we want to bring to our place in Pontelandolfo.

We have been flying Lufthansa which gets our full “going to Italy” suitcases to Naples where our best bud, Nicola picks us up. No suitcase angst. Jack, my frugal husband, discovered that premium seats on Norwegian Air from Newark, NJ was so much cheaper than Lufthansa.  Downside – you land in Rome with four full suitcases.  Upside –   the seats lie flat and you can sleep. Downside – you pay to stay in a hotel for a night or two.  Upside – it is Rome.  Downside – you have four freakin’ full suitcases!

When we landed in Rome with our four incredibly full and heavy suitcases – yes, you heard a WHINE –  the hotel’s driver picked us up and carried most of the bags. Then we used Mailbox Express to send half the bags to Pontelandolfo. We still had to drag two suitcases and computer bags on the train. Not fun. Oddio! I freakin’ hate it.

It was time to head back to New Jersey for a wedding – via Rome – with the same, albeit empty, four suitcases. I scoured for a car service – even a Bla Bla car – to get us and all our shit to Roma Fiumicino. The ever brilliant, Pasquale and Rossella, provided me with bus information. Flix Bus was cheap but took ten hours and left way too early in the morning.  Azienda Trasporti Molisana, ATM, had a bus that left from Boiano and only took the same three hours it would take in a car.  Hmm, I decided we would investigate.

I was telling my ex-pat pal in Ecuador, Marie, about my experimenting with bus transportation.  She promptly said, “ah, an experiment with four suitcases.”  Thanks Marie for the title!  Thanks for also reminding me that in Ecuador you have been using the buses forever.

An Experiment with 4 suitcases – 

ATM really had a comprehensive schedule.  But before I would investigate price, I sent a few e-mails to info@atm-molise.it.  (Dear proficient speakers of Italian – ignore my linguistic flaws. Non- Italian speakers will think I’m brilliant.)  Gulp, could I really drag 4 suitcases plus computer bags on the bus.  ATM responded immediately. (Damn, that impressed me.)

Me: Quante valigie possono portare ogni passeggero?  Grazie.

ATM: Quante ha bisogno di portarne? (I could see ATM rolling his/her eyes. How many do I need to carry – indeed!)

Me: Due (2) per me & due (2) per il mio marito.

ATM: Non c’è problema, buon viaggio. (Now ATM is laughing out loud and can’t wait to see us drag the suitcases down the street to the bus.)

Then I remembered a really important question.

Me: Dov’è ferma il pulmino nel Via Cavadini Boiano? The street is a long one.  How would we find the stop?

ATM: Davanti al vivaio La Ginestra, c’è il palo con l’indicazione ATM. Hmm near a nursery and there is a sign – sure there is a sign NOT.  This is Italy.

I moved on to the next step in the grand experiment and for €28.35 I booked two seats on the 9:55 AM ATM bus from Via Cavadini in Bojano (Boiano) to Fiumicino.  Jack and I often go to Boiano and decided we would do a trial run to find the alleged bus stop.  Shazaam – there was a clearly marked ATM sign right where they said it would be.  We were psyched.  This will be easy-peasy.

Trying to make the trip a wee bit easier I stuffed the duffle bag Jack usually packs into an oversized suitcase.  Great!  Now we are down to three suitcases, two computer bags and a purse.  What?  Jack promptly took his favorite blankee, I mean duffle bag out of the larger suitcase.  We are back up to four.  I whined again.  Jack then jammed, kicked and bullied a slightly smaller empty suitcase into the oversized one.  Four suitcases – pulling three and pocketing another. 

Rossella and Pasquale drove us to Boiano.  It had snowed.  The mountains looked fabulous.  The bus stop – full of snow.  How do you drag suitcases in the snow?  The bus arrived on time and stopped in the street.  Smart move.  We pulled the suitcases down the street and tossed them in the under-carriage storage bin.  The bus was modern and the seats comfortable.  The glass roof and wide windows provided breathtaking mountain views.  They also eliminated any large overhead storage.  My computer bag nested under my legs.

Happy Bus Riders!

After about an hour, I noticed the Lavazza Caffè maker ready to serve us and that there wasn’t a bathroom.  Suddenly, I had to pee.  Snow capped mountains zipped by.  I had to pee. I refused to think about peeing.  Olive groves, flocks of sheep and goats, plains prepped for spring plantings – those views and those thoughts filled my head. So did the many ways one could ask for a bathroom – C’è un bagno?  Dov’è il bagno? La toilette??  We arrived at Roma Stazione Tiburtina.  Our bags came out of the bottom of the bus and we were told to wait at the same place for the bus to Fiumicino.  I used my now longer list of Italian bathroom phrases and found the bathroom.  Paid the 50 cents to enter. Waited for a stall. Opened the door and found a marble hole in the floor with foot pads.  NOOOOOO!  I had on pantyhose.  That means taking off the pantyhose and putting my bare feet – noooooo!  I sucked it up and went back to get the bus to Fiumicino.  I could hold it another 40 minutes.  I am a strong woman.

The bus arrived and they loaded our luggage underneath, checked our tickets and off we went.  The wi-fi worked on this bus – it hadn’t on the first one.  It was a double decker bus and we chose the easy to get to bottom level.  We each took two seats and put our computer bags on one.  Most people went upstairs for the better views. Soon we arrived at Fiumicino’s international terminal.  They helped us with our bags and off we went to check in.  (Yes, I immediately found a bathroom.)

The bus company was easy to work with, ran on time, and was comfortable.  We have now discovered yet another way and another reason to get to Pontelandolfo!

Ci  vediamo!

_______________________

It is not too late to sign up for the 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.  The May culinary adventure awaits you. The September section is almost full.