Casa Malaparte is a house in the Italian Moderne style on Punta Massullo, a peninsula on the eastern side of the Isle of Capri, Italy. The house was conceived in 1937 by Italian architect Adalberto Libera for Curzio Malaparte. Malaparte eventually rejected Libera's design and built the home himself with the help of Adolfo Amitrano, a local stonemason.
Casa Malaparte looks like it was designed by my son in Minecraft--a strange, fish-shaped building with pyramidal stairs clinging to the edge of a hundred-foot cliff at the edge of Gulf of Salerno. Access to this private property is either by a half mile trek from the edge of the Town of Capri, or by boat and a staircase cut into the cliff.
In the United States, we consume over 250 million pounds of garlic each year, and believe it or not, unlike 10 years ago when most of it came from California, today over 50% of our garlic comes from China. Yes. China. Where "organic" food doesn't exist. Where crops are manured with human waste. Where they force people to move far away from their homes to towns dedicated to a particular industry (toy town, electronics town, carpet town, etc.)... but the production and export of garlic from China has grown so much that they have an entire province dedicated to their stinky garlic production--Shandong.
The good stuff
My son Lucas was the first to bring Chinese garlic to my attention last year when we were in our favorite supermarket. "Dad, look at the label on that mesh bag of garlic! It's Made in China!" He was right. I've since learned that the Chinese garlic is to be avoided at all costs for a variety of reasons. I mean, really? We can't grow our own garlic?
There's even a Black Market of Chinese garlic with cartels that act just like drug dealers. In Europe, smuggling garlic in from China is a big business, often wreaking havoc on the market price of garlic.
We here in the U.S. can be a pretty complacent bunch. It doesn't matter where Walmart gets the products that stock their shelves, as long as we can get it cheap. So much for Made in the USA. Sure, we complain about not enough jobs, but then go ahead and support industries that buy from China and Mexico and a host of other countries, while they close down factories and farms here in the States.
Apparently, with us buying over 50% of our garlic from the China, we don't care much... as long as it's bleached white (yes, they actually use bleach), blemish free (they use many toxic chemicals that kill everything, even beneficial insects) and is cheap (they manipulate the market) and tastes more or less like garlic. Most Americans have no idea what organically grown garlic tastes like.
There are many Italian varieties of garlic
There's even a black garlic: Aglio Nero
Italians love their Aglio! And because of that passion, Chinese garlic isn't going down easily with Italians.The total production of garlic in Italy is about 30 millions pounds, with only around 2-2/5 million pounds of Chinese garlic being imported annually. There are a few a good reasons for this...
First of all, to Italians, there isn't just one generic type of garlic. Italians are used to buying fresh garlic in local open air markets. And they have many options: the red garlic of Sulmona, Polesano garlic, white garlic of Vessalico, garlic dell'Ufita, garlic of Molino dei Torti, the garlic of Resia, the Massese garlic, red garlic of Castelliri, Nubia, garlic from the Maremma in Tuscany and the Monticelli garlic from Campania. Italians have choice. Italians love choice, too... especially when it comes to their produce.
The other reason why Italians aren't warming up to Chinese garlic is because their love of fresh, healthy ingredients. The Italian diet makes Italians one of the healthiest countries in the world. (Read about Italy, the Healthiest European Country HERE). In 2010 China won the dubious distinction of the most contaminated foods being exported to other countries. Their garlic contain mycotoxins, additives and colorants not approved by the European Union. Many of the irregularities are due to their garlic coming into contact with other toxic chemicals either during storage or shipment. Italians like to know where their food comes from--often from their own garden, or from a farmer they are on a first name basic with.
Another beautiful Italian variety
The surprising thing in all this is that Italians may be in for a real fight against how the European Union is warming up to Chinese garlic. In 2011, the European Union's Official Journal gave the Chinese garlic variety, Jinxiang Da Suan Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) and Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). Che cavall0! This is how they protect Chianti wine, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and other Italian regional specialties. How could this be happening. The EU is run by a bunch of business leaders. The fat cats. The "One Percent-ers". That's why.
So, Bravo! to Italians in fighting back and not letting Chinese garlic take over their marketplace. As for me, I suppose I'll just have to start growing my own. Garlic is supposed to be so easy that you can grown it indoors.
I'll let you all know how that plan goes... Hey, since Lucas started this, I'll get him to plant the garlic!
Before the earthquake, the town of Amatrice (pronounced am-ah-TREE-chay) in the Lazio region of northern Italy, was known for many things... the wonderful mountain setting, suited for fishing and trekking in summer, and for skiing in the winter. The town itself was a beautiful, quaint medieval village, complete with many frescoes in its churches, a famous rose window and of course, its campanile with its huge bell. But there was one thing the town was even more famous for: the gastronomic treasure called Spaghetti Amatriciana.
As you may know, most of the town was destroyed in the quake. Many lives were lost. But for certain, one tradition lives on and may be the thing that helps the village rise from the ashes. Spaghetti Amatriciana has been made since the 18th century, and more than likely, its history goes back much further than that. Restaurants all over the world have been offering the dish with proceeds going to aide the people and commune of Amatrice.
Spaghetti Amatriciana was originally a peasant recipe, created by poor shepherds who used one of the cheapest--often discarded--parts of the pig, namely guanciale (or pig jowls). Similar to bacon, guanciale has more fat and little or no salt or smoke flavor. The addition of tomatoes, onions and white wine complete the recipe. One can understand why such a fatty part of the hog got to be a favorite in the mountainous region--fat helps keep the body warm.
Today, the sauce has several variants. Gricia, is a simple sauce similar to Amatriciana also using guanciale, with pecorino (sheep) cheese and black pepper, but no tomatoes. This might actually be the earliest predecessor of Amatriciana, possibly dating back before tomatoes were brought back from the New World. The ingredients are simple and easily carried in a shepherd's pack. Then there is Bucatini 'Matriciana (in Roman dialect) which came to Rome in the 1800s and today is considered to be a classic of Roman cuisine, even though the dish came from Amatrice. Finally, and perhaps most famous of this family of sauces is Spaghetti alla Carbonara, a Roman dish using eggs and either Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano to make a creamy sauce, with black pepper and some sort of bacon added (either guanciale, pancetta or at times, prosciutto).
I felt compelled to make an authentic version of Spaghetti Amatriciana in remembrance of the souls lost in Amatrice... I did Google searches in Italian to ensure I would find traditional, local recipes. I then set out to make it for Lisa and Lucas...
Guanciale - glistening in all its fatty glory
Ingredients 1 pound of spaghetti 3 ounces of guanciale (if you can't find it, substitute pancetta) 1 small onion, diced 16 ounces of diced tomatoes (use fresh if you have access to sweet tomatoes) 1-1/2 cups white wine (to keep it regional, use wine made with the Trebbiano grape) 1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano
Amatriciana sauce, with the onions, wine and tomatoes added
To begin, if using guanciale, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Add 1 pound of spaghetti to a large pot with well-salted, boiling water. Cook until al dente.
After starting your pasta, remove the guanciale from the freezer and cut into 1/4" slices, then cut into thin strips across its narrow width.
In a large saute pan, cook the guanciale on a medium flame, until browned and starting to get crisp on its meaty sections. The fatty areas will look translucent when done.
Remove the guanciale and drain on paper towels.
Using paper towels, wipe out the excess fat.
Place the pan back on a medium flame and add the diced onions and continue to cook until they are translucent.
Next, add the tomatoes and the wine and raise the flame to high. Reduce the sauce for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Drain your pasta and place it in a large pasta bowl. Add the Amatriciana sauce and toss gently with a pair of tongs. Add the grated cheese and toss a bit more.
Serve with some nice crunchy bread cut into small slices for use as a scarpetta. (Read about using a scarpetta HERE) and a nice glass of white wine.
I'm going to be honest, here. When I was a boy, my Dad used to love fatty things. He would eat the thick, white fat off the sides of his steaks. I've never developed a taste for eating fat. I never liked the greasy texture of the stuff. My bacon has to be crispy. I prefer a drier prosciutto. I like my bacon crispy.
Although the flavors of our Spaghetti Amatriciana were pretty good, none of us really enjoyed the gelatinous texture of the guanciale itself. The striations of actual pork meat were cooked well, but had a dryness and lack of flavor that matched the bits of pork in the pork-fried rice we order from our local Chinese take-out. The fatty parts were--well, just plain fatty.
The dish itself wasn't really greasy (I had removed most of the rendered fat from the pan), but it did have a lard-like flavor I didn't enjoy.
If I wanted to make this dish again, I might modify it to our family's tastes... perhaps not using a raw type of bacon (I do realize that technically, guanciale is not a "bacon"), but instead using a thick cut smoked bacon, like prosciutto. Or, as a fussier solution, I would cut the meaty parts of the guanciale out to add them and saute them later on, only after the fattier parts have gone crispy, like I prefer American style bacon.
I hope no one thinks I'm disrespecting the original Spaghetti Amatriciana recipe. I love authentic recipes and regional products. But I'll be the first to admit it, when exploring the culinary world often I find my taste palette is not as broad as I would hope it to be. Still, I loved making this dish in honor of Amatrice and its inhabitants (and those in neighboring communes) have--and are--going through. Before partaking in our meal, we had a moment of silence on behalf of the lost lives.
With so much attention paid to their wonderful town, I am certain that in time, they will rebuild, stone by stone, as I have seen on other towns in Europe after such disasters.
So, try your own tribute with this recipe, or a variation or by making one of it's "cousin" dishes. And don't forget to make a donation to help them rebuild.
Ok, so this isn't really a recipe, per se. It's a suggestion to eat a light lunch, Italian Style. It's about getting together some simple ingredients and putting together a tasty, healthy lunch platter for yourself and your kids. Think of this style of lunch as an indoor picnic... with or without the blanket--your choice. There have actually been rainy or snowy days when we've actually put our picnic blanket down on the kitchen or living room floor and sat down to have our Italian scampagnata (picnic outing) right inside the house.
Usually, we get together this type of lunch when we aren't sure what to have, but then notice a bunch of great things in the fridge. This time, it was some fresh figs I had just bought, a bit of leftover ricotta from this week's lasagna, a drizzle of honey and a tiny dribble of a precious bottle of aged balsamic that we bought two years ago in Tuscany... then cut up some cheese, ciabatta, sausage and an yellow heirloom tomato... some oregano and sea salt on the tomatoes, then toss in a few pimento stuffed olives, and presto! A lunch fit for "we three", as we call ourselves.
Pair with a bit of gassata (sparkling water) and put on an Italian cooking show on the big screen TV...
Twin Tower Tribute, Photomontage by Finzi, Copyright 2016
When we recently brought our son, Lucas, to visit Liberty Island and to see his grandfather's name on the Immigrant Wall of Honor on Ellis Island, our eyes, hearts and minds couldn't help focusing on the new Liberty Tower across the Hudson in Manhattan, and to the empty space in the sky where our beloved Twin Towers once stood. Lisa and I felt it strongly. Lisa used to work in the Towers when she first started her career in the financial industry. Once during a power blackout, she actually had to walk down 102 floors in the narrow, over-crowded, pitch black stairway to get back to ground level. Because of this, she had a first hand feel for what a nightmare it must have been for rescuers and workers alike trying to negotiate their way through the inadequately sized and poorly lit stairways of the Twin Towers during that frightening and terrible ordeal.
As a teen, I watched from the New Jersey Palisades as the Towers started going up. They became part of the New York skyline just about the time when I was starting my career as a photographer in Manhattan. I had been to them many times as a businessman in Manhattan visiting either the City, State or Internal Revenue offices that were tenants there. I had shopped and eaten lunch in the Mall underground. In later years, I cycled past them daily on my ten-mile bicycle rides along the Hudson and East Rivers. Whenever I left home, the Towers were there at the foot of Manhattan or in the nighttime illuminated skyline as I drove back from Kennedy Airport. I also have done a lot of boating around Manhattan waters, the Twin Towers always shining down on us or glowing like a beacon at night. I once was fortunate enough to fly in a vintage biplane within close range to the Towers, looking up at them from my windy, piston-firing perch. That was quite an experience.
On 9/11, Lisa was working down on Wall Street, only a half block from the Twin Towers. For some reason or other, Lisa had decided to work at home on 9/11. Her plan was originally to go down into the shopping mall underneath the Towers to buy me a present for our upcoming wedding anniversary. She had planned to shop early in the morning, before starting work. That would have been around 9am.
We didn't even think of this as we watched the first Tower burn, and then saw the second plane crash into the second Tower on live TV that horrible, bright sunny morning. It was only when we saw the first tower collapse that we suddenly looked at each other, realizing the happenstance that kept Lisa away from this disaster that morning.
This changed our life forever. When we saw the madness in the world, we decided to concentrate on making our own little part of the world better... and have a child.
Lucas is our tribute to the souls lost on 9/11. In August of 2003 he was born--three weeks early and anxious to start his new adventure. He is all love. He is everything that is right about the world. He is our hope for the future. He is our way to fight back against the madness and leave our amazing boy to hopefully make the world a better place... even if only in his small part of it.
Remembering the glory of those magnificent Towers and the Souls lost on that terrible day...
This is my simple recipe for a fairly authentic Pizza Margherita Napoletana, just like you might find on the streets of Naples. The ingredients are simple, the techniques are simple, the taste is amazing...
Ingredients To proof the yeast 1 cup warm water (at 115F) half packet or 1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast 1 tablespoon honey
Mix the yeast and honey into the water in a 2 cup measure or small bowl. Set aside to rise. Place a baking steel (highly recommended) or a pizza stone onto the center rack of your oven, then preheat to 515F.
For the dough 2 - 1/2 cups all purpose flour (you may also replace 1/2 cup all-purpose with 1/2 cup bread flour) 1 tablespoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the toppings 1-1/2 cups pizza sauce (a thin marinara will do) 8 ounces sliced, part skim mozzarella (you can use the wide slicing notches on a box grater) 6-9 large, fresh basil leaves 1 tablespoon, dry oregano (Use chopped, fresh oregano if available) 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil Thin slices of a sweet heirloom tomato
Place 1 cup of the flour into a bowl of a stand mixer (or food processor) and add the salt and sugar. Mix the dry ingredients for a minutes.
Pour the proofed yeast (when its foam looks to be about 1-1/2 inches high) into the flour and mix on a low speed, scraping down the bowl as needed. After a slurry is formed, add the olive oil.
Continue adding the flour, little by little until you have a dough forming. If the dough seems too wet, add a couple of tablespoons of flour at a time, until you form a rough shaped, but moist dough ball. You do NOT want a stiff dough. This is not the type of dough that can be tossed like a commercial pizzaiolo does. It is much more delicate.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and knead for 2-4 minutes. Keep your hands well floured. The dough should feel slightly sticky at first, but not overly so. Knead until you get a smooth, soft ball of dough.
You should now oil a medium size bowl with extra virgin olive oil and place your dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature to rise for 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, get a wooden pizza peel (an affordable tool for making at home pizzas) and place a sheet of parchment paper on top.
Press down your risen dough gently to flatten it.
Next, turn out your dough onto the floured work surface and toss some more flour on the top side. Working with the heel of your hands and palms, flatten and shape the dough into a rough circular shape... an irregular shape gives a rustic look to your pizza. Try to flatten the center of the dough while keeping a thicker crust around the perimeter.
Toss a bit more flour on top, then fold over the right side, and then the left by thirds, creating a sort three paged dough "book". Lifting up each end carefully, transfer your dough onto the pizza peel.
Unfold your dough and carefully and gently shape into the final shape of your pizza.
You can now add the toppings.Using a small ladle, cover the top of the pizza round with a light coating of sauce.
Next, place the slices of mozzarella onto the pizza and then the basil leaves.
Place the slices of tomatoes around your pizza.
Drizzle the pizza with the extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkle with oregano.
Using the pizza peel, slide the pizza onto your baking steel or baking stone and bake for 5 minutes (on the steel) or 8-15 minutes (if using a stone) at 515F. Keep an eye on your pizza during baking--no two ovens are alike. Check under your crust to ensure that it's browning. If needed for the toppings, you can turn your oven to Broil and bake another 1-2 minutes.
Remove from the oven, slice up your pizza using a pizza cutter wheel and serve with your favorite Chianti or Primativo.
I hope you enjoy your pizza... let us know how it came out!
We all love Lasagne around our home, but to us it's a treat saved for the colder months. It's just way too filling for summer, but with the end of Summer Lisa thought she'd add another dimension by adding some of the last eggplants from our garden and make us Eggplant Lasagna. Her version uses three cheeses... ricotta, Fontina and smoked mozzarella. Fantastic.
Brava, Mama! She really knows how to take care of her boys...
Ingredients 2 medium, firm eggplants 2 cups breadcrumbs 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning blend 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano 2 eggs, beaten well 3-4 tablespoons sea salt 1 cup canola oil (for frying)
1 box (8 ounces) of "oven ready" (no boil) Lasagna noodles 16 ounces part skim ricotta 1 cup grated fontina 1 cup grated smoked mozzarella 2 cups marinara sauce (you can also use our Pizza Sauce recipe HERE)
First, open your ricotta and place onto a mesh sieve placed over a bowl to drain away excess water. You can cut up the ricotta to speed the draining a bit. Let drain for 1-2 hours.
Next, using a vegetable peeler, peel the skins off of the eggplants. (Skins can give a bitter taste, but if you prefer, leave them on).
Cut the eggplant into 1/2 round slices.
Using a large colander, layer the rounds of eggplant and salt them generously, repeat in layers until all the slices are salted. Then let them drain into a bowl or a sink for 30 minutes. The salt draws out the bitter juice, leaving a sweeter tasting eggplant.
After 30 minutes have passed, rinse the eggplant slices in cold water to remove the salt. Then pat the slices dry and lay them out on a cotton kitchen towel or layers of paper towels.
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Mix your Italian spice blend and Parmigiano Reggiano into the breadcrumbs in a medium size bowl.
Place the beaten egg into a shallow bowl.
Dip the eggplant rounds first into the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumb mixture to coat all sides. Place onto a baking tray lined with paper towels. Do the same until all of the eggplant is coated. Let the coated eggplant set up for 20 minutes or so before frying.
Place 1 cup of canola oil (or light olive oil, if preferred) into a large saute pan and turn the heat to medium-low flame (or temperature if electric).
Just before the oil starts smoking, start frying your eggplant until golden brown on both sides. Use tongs to turn them over gently. Place on a paper lined baking tray to drain.
Assembling the Lasagna
Take a ladle-full of sauce and coat the bottom of a lasagna pan.
Place one layer of oven-ready lasagna sheets along the bottom of the pan. Break sheets as needed to cover on one layer.
Spread a thin coating of ricotta top of the first layer, then a layer of eggplant, then some tomato sauce, and finally add a bit of shredded Fontina.
Repeat another layer--lasagna sheets, ricotta, eggplant, sauce, then Fontina. You should be able to build 3-4 layers, depending on the size of your lasagna pan.
On the top, coat with a bit more sauce and then with the shredded smoked mozzarella.
Cover the lasagna pan with foil, with the shiny side facing out, and place in the center of your 375F oven for 50-60 minutes. It should be bubbling around the edges when done.
At the end of baking, remove the foil and place your oven on broil for 2 minutes.
When finished, let stand for 5-10 minutes or so before serving.
We had our lasagna with an amazing bottle of "Joha" Primativo by Guttarolo(2010). It was fairly expensive for us ($36 for the bottle), but to our surprise, it was worth it. It had a smooth feeling passing through our lips, was mellow on the tongue with a nice balance of acidity. As most Primativo wines, this had a hearty flavor with bits of musk, hay, and a touch of spice. A great pairing with Lisa's Eggplant Lasagna...
If you make our recipe, let us know how it turned out.
This past Labor Day weekend, we had some close friends over for a barbecue. Since the main course might be fairly filling, we wanted to make a light, summery dessert. Lisa and I partnered up on this one. She came up with a fabulous dough for the crust and I put it all together... our Pesca Mirtillo Crostata, or Peach Blueberry Tart.
This is actually a fairly easy dessert to make that will always impress company. It looks so elegant event though it is the ultimate in quick, easy recipes.
Ingredients for the crust: 1 - 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (we use King Arthur's) 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 9 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 1/4" slices 4 tablespoons ice water, plus one or two additional tablespoons, if needed
for the filling: 4 large white peaches (if in season), sliced into 1/2" wedges (leave skin on) 1/2 cup fresh blueberries 1/4 cup cinnamon and sugar 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch dash of nutmeg 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam, heated and melted (for brushing the bottom of the crust)
To finish off the crust 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar (for sprinkling on the crust)
Making the crust
Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor, then pulse to mix.
Making sure your pieces of butter are cold, add them to the mix, then pulse until you get a course texture with some pebbly size pieces remaining. Do not over process. You want to see bits of butter throughout.
Splash the 4 tablespoons water on top of the mix and pulse again until the dough comes together into a fairly smooth ball. If the mix is dry, add a bit more water (1/2 tablespoon at a time) until you get a smooth ball formed.
Place the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and flatten by gently banging with a straight sided pastry rolling pin, turning a quarter turn, then banging a bit more (evenly across the surface) until you get a disk of dough about 3/4 of an inch thick.
Wrap the disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour (or longer... you can keep it in there longer if you are making the dough ahead of time).
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Making the filling
In a medium mixing bowl, place the 1/4 cup cinnamon and sugar blend, the 2 tablespoons flour, and the dash of nutmeg and mix to combine.
Clean, dry and then slice the peaches into wedge segments. You can leave the skin on. Place the peach segments and the blueberries in the bowl and toss to coat with the cinnamon sugar/flour mixture.
Assembling the Crostata
When ready to roll out the crust, remove from the refrigerator and let it rest on your work surface for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the raspberry jam until it melts.
Remove plastic wrap, then place the disk between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out the dough, turning a quarter turn as it grows in size. Roll it out to a thickness of slightly less than 1/4 " (the thickness of two quarter dollars or two Euros is about right) and about 10" in diameter. (Don't worry of the circle of dough isn't perfect. That is the look and charm of a crostata... the shape should be rustic and a bit uneven.)
Place your dough disk onto a heavy baking sheet... a professional, silver half-sheet pan is perfect for this. (Do not use an air-insulated cookie sheet or the crust might not brown on the bottom.) If you use a dark pan, the baking time might be 5-10 minutes less.
Remove the top parchment paper and then using a pastry brush, coat the top of the dough disk with jam, leaving the outer 2" or so un-coated.
Starting in the center, lay out your peach slices, overlapping as you go. You can do concentric circles or a spiral--your choice. You can even place them randomly for a truly rustic look. The circle of peaches should stop about 2" from the edges of your disk of dough.
Place the blueberries randomly throughout. Or, you could use more blueberries to make alternating rings of peaches, then blueberries, and so on. For me, I like the randomness. After all, this is an Italian crostata, not a meticulous French gallette.
Next, fold over the crust's edges, one 3" section at a time... fold over onto the top of the outermost peaches. You don't have to pinch... just fold over gently.
Now, brush on the beaten egg wash onto the crust, then sprinkle generously with the turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw is one brand).
Bake for 40-50 minutes in a 400F oven on the center rack until the crust looks golden brown and crispy.
Remove from oven when done and place on a cooling rack before serving. This tart keeps nicely in the refrigerator in case you're making it ahead. you can lightly cover with foil or plastic wrap for a day or two.
I served the crostata with a scoop of home made French vanilla ice cream... Lisa had hers with some Limoncello.
We came upon these beautiful grapes near San Gimignano
Chestnuts are a really big deal in Italy
In September and October (depending if you are in the North or South of Italy), the hanging bunches of grapes swell and beg to be picked. Flocks of wine aficionados go to Italy for the sole purpose of taking part of this miracle, vising wineries, walking through vineyards, taking part in the harvest and of course, paring the wines they discover with the amazing food of Italy. When to harvest is a tricky thing. It depends on the variety, the weather (rain, cold, frost, hail and wind) and the ripeness of the fruit on the vines. Wine makers have ways to measure the sugars, acid and tannin levels in their grapes. They look for a perfect time to send their pickers out to the fields--when the grapes reach the perfect ratio of sweetness and acid. Some fields are harvested in August, others in September while still others wait until October. Believe it or not, much of the grapes are still harvested by the old fashioned way--a mano (by hand). It costs more than harvesting with machines, but many vintners believe it helps them produce a superior product in the end. Hand picking allows the human hand and eye to selectively pick the grapes that are at their peak. At any given time there might be grapes that are not even close to being ripe, some that are perfect while others are mushy and moldy or rotten entirely. Hands and eyes can pick and choose--a mechanical harvester cannot. Grapes harvested by hand need a lot of sorting afterwards by humans--which costs more time and money.
A good example of harvest time.... in Chianti at the end of September, the fields will be full of people picking grapes from the vines. They fill plastic milk-type crates up with grapes, then carry them to the end of the row and dump them into a big open container that is pulled by a tractor or a three-wheeled Treroute. You'll see many rigs driving down the roads loaded with grapes on the way to the fattoria. You will probably smell the fermenting process when driving by some vineyards.
Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles in Alba
Another reason to Voyage to Italy during harvest time is to enjoy the many various types of sagre (festivals) at this time of year. There's a lot more being harvested than just grapes. Local festivals are held for wine, cheese, bread, nuts, pumpkins, chocolate, mushrooms, sausages.... you name it, and there's a festival for you--some for food, some for history, all in the colorful autumn Italian countryside. Here are just a few...
Lucca: Festa della Esaltazione della Santa Croce - September 13, La Luminaria procession. The streets are illuminated with candles during the Luminara di Santa Croce, the principal event of the year in Lucca and part of a series of festivals during September. A wooden crucifix figure is carried along the streets of the old town center illuminated by thousands of small candles. There is also the "Mottettone" concert inside the cathedral and fireworks on the banks of the river.
Panicale: From Sept 8th to 11th, Panicale holds their Festa del l'uva - grape harvest festival, an interesting event dedicated to wine in Umbria. You can taste local dishes at the tavern and, of course, the excellent local wines.
Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany: Gran Premio Nuvolari - one of the most prestigious Grand Prix of classic cars in Italy, the Grand Premio Nuvolari (named after Tazio Nuvolari, one of the greatest drivers in the history of car racing), which takes place every year from 18th to 21st September. Over 500 drivers, in 250 classic cars start out from Mantua, driving over 1000 km through many towns in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. For instance, on September 20th the cars will parade through the Piazza del Campo in Siena from 12:00 am to 2:30 pm. More info HERE.
Aquaviva: The Viva Rock Festival will be held from September 7 through 11 in Acquaviva, a few kilometers from Montepulciano, featuring rock, world music, electronic music and reggae, admission is free for all the concerts.
Siena: There seem to be festivals going on all the time in Siena. In September you might visit Siena and see a procession of hundreds of people dressed in medieval costumes or red devil costumes.
Chianti: The olive harvest takes place in November. There are farm rentals (agriturismo) where you can actually take part in picking the olives. A perfect time to buy some oil.
Chianti: The chestnut harvest takes place between the middle of October and the middle of November. Chestnut flour is available a month or two after harvest. Chestnuts are grown in many parts of northern Italy.
Marradi: Northeast of Florence in the town of Marradi is the The Marradi Chestnut Festival, running every Sunday in October
Pisa: Within the province of Pisa, the prestigious International Market and Fair of the White Truffle at Corazzano.
San Miniato: In San Miniato, one of the more important truffle towns, you’ll have the chance to taste and buy one the most prestigious food products you’ll ever find on the first weekend in October. This is a "preview" of the main San Miniato market and fair that takes place every weekend in November.
Asti:Festival Delle Sagre is a one day event with food and wine from 40 villages in the area. It’s only 45 minutes from Turin. Sample tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, frittata with chickpea and herbs, fried frog and cured donkey meat. Processions and live music entertain the large crowd throughout the day and into evening. www.festivaldellesagre.it
Alba: In October there is the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco--a festival for the Tartufo biano, or white truffle, is a veritable celebrity in Alba and the month-long autumn festival devoted to the famous fungus is a must-see. Last October, Prince Albert of Monaco made a royal appearance at the opening ceremonies, a fanfare fitting for one of the world’s most sought-after delicacies. www.fieradeltartufo.org
Caluso: 20 miles outside Turin in the small town of Caluso, every September droves of wine enthusiasts celebrate the locally harvested grapes at the Festa dell’Uva. www.festadelluva.tn.it
Negroamaro: In Puglia, the Negroamaro Wine Festival is held in Brindisi every November.
Gubbio, Umbria:“Il Mese del Tartufo” (the Month of the Truffle) from November 19-20 and November 26-27, with events centering around different truffle-related products and other Umbrian specialties.
Piegaio: The Festa della Zucca (Squash Festival) is held in early October in Piegaio, a small town near Lucca. Growers from across the region head to the village to show off their biggest and best produce. There are also stalls brimming with squash-based dishes (as well as local honey, meats and cheeses) and even dolls made out of the fruit.
Montalcino: Beekeepers Week in Montalcino, Tuscany is held in early September. Honey tastings and all sorts of foods made with honey.
Bra: The Slow Cheese Festival happens this year from September 18-21 in Bra, Italy, a town in the northern Piedmont region, which is also the birthplace of Slow Food movement.
Buonconvento: In early September the walled town of Buonvonvento hosts a beer festival.
Verona: The Tocatì, the International Festival of Street Games in Verona, is an interesting opportunity to check out games, sounds and flavors of the past. Sept 15-18.
Greve: In Greve in Chianti there's the Expo del Chianti Classico celebrating the ubiquitous Chianti wine. There's music, lessons on wine and food sampling. There will be over 60 wine producers attending. In 2016 the event will be from the 8th to the 11th of September.
Milan & Turin:The MITO music festival takes place in September in the cities of Milan and Turin, and lasts throughout the month.
Ciminna:San Vito's day is celebrated in Ciminna, near Palermo, Sicily during the first week of September. There is a large parade where scenes from the life of the Saint are re-enacted. A livestock fair is also organized.
Florence: One of the oldest September festivals takes place in one of Italy's best known and most beautiful cities, Florence--the Feast of the Rificolona.
Pienza: The Pienza Pecorino Fair and "Cacio al Fuso" takes place on the first Sunday in September. Pienza is known for the pecorino (sheep cheese) in Italy and a wide range of excellent cheeses is available to be tasted and bought during this fair. The Cacio al Fuso is a cheese rolling competition--contestants roll a round of cheese to see how far it goes.
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When I was planning the southern leg of our Voyage through Italy, one of the pins on my Google Earth map was at Paestum, an archeological site in Campania about 25 miles south of Salerno and the Amalfi Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea. We opted to leave Salerno and drive a more direct route to the rocky villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa--villages that remind me of Machu Picchu clinging to rocky precipices. If we had driven to Paestum first, we would have had a more arduous, long mountainous drive to bring us toward Basilicata and Puglia.
In hindsight, I wish we had at least done an early morning side trip to Paestum. It's located in the part of southern Italy known as Magna Graecia, which used to be settled by the Greeks long before the Roman Empire. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three Greek temples with massive, intact Doric columns dating from about 600 to 450 BC. All structures are built from the local bedrock--travertine. Also intact are the foundation walls of many parts of the ancient city, an amphitheater and paved roads as well preserved as the Appian Way in Rome.
Both large temples at the site are dedicated to the goddess Hera
Nearby Agropoli, an ancient Greek port city
The site is open to the public, and there is a modern national museum within it, which also contains the finds from the associated Greek site of Foce del Sele. Founded by Greek colonists under the name of Poseidonia, it was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. It has been known by several names... Lucanians dubbed it Paistos, with Pesto being another variation. The Romans changed it later on to Paestum. During early Christian times, the town was ruled by a Bishop but then abandoned and forgotten by the Middle Ages. It was rediscovered in the 18th century.
The modern town of Paestum, just south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort, with long sandy beaches where many Italians spend their Ferragosto summer holiday in the month of August. However, if you want to relax and enjoy the flavors of this region, make your hub in the beautiful port town of Agropoli... a seaport just to the south, with its town hugging the cliffs above. The town is definitely worth more than just an overnight stay. Some might call it a romantic getaway. Another important aspect of the area is the raising of buffalo to produce the famous mozzarella di bufala. You may visit local farms to see the prized buffalo being massaged and pampered, as well as see how the fresh cheese is made.
These magnificent beasts produce amazing mozzarella
Heracles kills Alcyoneus
Aerial view of the site
If you go:
By Train Catch a train from Salerno or Naples to Paestum station. Buy a two-way tick if you need to return. I have read that the ticket machines in the Paestum station rarely work. By Boat There are ferrys during summer months from Salerno, Naples, Positano, Amalfi
By Bus Buses run throughout the Campania regions, especially in Avellino province, picking locals up for various points and taking them to the site for €9 return.
Paestum Tickets You can buy separate tickets for the archaeological site and the museum but if you're visiting both it is cheaper to purchase a combined ticket (about €6.50). There are various categories of discount. This is an Italian national monuments. Check for free entry for seniors and handicapped. The open air site is open daily; the museum is closed on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Step One: Don't be a tourist! Ok, I know that we fell into this trap ourselves when we traveled throughout Italy, but I'm telling you all to "Do as we say, not as we did!" You shouldn't spend all your time waiting on unimaginably long lines just to get into must-see tourist sites. There's real life out there away from the tourist throngs. I would suggest allocating only about 20% or less of your time trying to get into the "must see" sights that every other tourist is trying to see and 80% actually experience the Italian way of life.
As difficult as it is, try not to go where every other tourist is going. I know this is hard for the first timer to Italy--it was for us--to decide not to see the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo's David. We spent a nightmarish, sweaty, stuffy, exhausting morning being enveloped and shoved by throngs of cruise ship tours in the Vatican Museum (Sistine Chapel included) and St. Peters--and believe it or not, this was a so-called "private tour" with our own personal guide! Sure, it was great seeing the Sistine Chapel, but as museums go, the Vatican Museum is not up to world standards in terms of comfort, proper care of the art displayed, lighting, cleanliness or how it handles the huge crowds they stuff into the place. And speaking as an artist, there was no opportunity to sit and admire Michelangelo's creation properly. (Read about our Vatican tour HERE.)
Lines at the Vatican Museum
The second part of this tip is to s l o w d o w n... You can't possibly see everything in Italy. When I first started planning our trip ten months before we left, every time I zoomed in to a different part of Italy on Google Earth I kept finding more and more outrageously wonderful things that I added to my pin map. I still have those Google maps saved in case we go back to Italy. Even when we were in one region, like Puglia, for example, I had dozens of things pinned in the area that we never got to see--that we just didn't have time to see. Still, I looked at it as having a list of options for a given area we happened to be in, knowing that we'd never get to see all of them.
There are 46 million tourists swooping down on Italy every year with the "high season" getting wider and wider (we went in October... I can't imagine how much more crowded the tourist sites are in late spring or summer!) But you have to remember, that almost anywhere you go in Italy, in every region, there is a plethora of art, palaces, aqueducts, museums, vineyards and great food everywhere! Even the smallest villages we passed through were worth a stop, a picnic and offered great subjects for photography. Castles... they are everywhere. Hill towns?--Where aren't there any? Roman ruins? Everywhere you look. Great architecture and churches? Fine art? Great wine? Yes, even in the small villages and towns. Great food? Pick a cuisine--any of the 20 regional cuisines in Italy!
So, take your time and by all means, slow down, and plan on savoring each and every bit of Italy and you'll find a higher degree of appreciation and satisfaction for La Bella Italia. Don't rush through anything. If you find that the lines are way to long, consider getting out of line and walk the other way... find something else around the next corner, in the next piazza or in the next village.
There's nothing like an Italian smile--Our Hot Air Balloon pilot, Stefano and one of his pups
One last part of this tip: Smile at locals and try to talk to them... Learn at least a little Italian before going to Italy. Talk to the ladies in the alimentari when buying your picnic supplies. Point a lot... smile a lot. Try talking to taxi drivers. I found them to really open up when you talk to them and ask about their lives. Learn basic phrases like Questo or Quello (This one... that one), Come si chiama? (What is this called?), Dove ___? (Where is found ____?), Grazie (thanks) and Per favore (Please).... and of course, Grazie (thanks--and say it properly: grat-zee-EH). You might not understand everything they say back to you but you will be experiencing the people of Italy. Take their photograph to remember their smiles. Give them your smile in return.
Remember, you are going to Italy to see, to smell, to taste and to feel... and to take home souvenirs... in the literal sense of the word... memories. Your goal should be to come back home with a part of the Italian lifestyle as part of your soul. Italia will never leave you...
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OPINION: There should really be a tiered level of visits to the Vatican Museum, sold through lotteries. Those proving some art credentials--like academics or students of art--should be allowed a different time of day where they can spend a decent amount of quiet contemplation--something that isn't an option today. To stop the wear and tear on the museum itself (the patterned floor tiles are getting worn through!), the general tourist public should only be allowed to visit a smaller section of the museum, with a limited number of people accessing the Sistine Chapel at the same time. Or, as they have done with other fragile tile or mosaic floors in other churches in Italy, put raised walkways so tourists' feet never touch the tiles. Also, no children under 10 should be allowed. Visitors should also be expelled whenever they break the rules of the Church, like men wearing hats. ---JF
Copyright 2015, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
The Basket/Trolley: Lucas loved pulling these around
Of course, the ultimate experience in buying food in Italy is to buy fresh in local town open air markets. But to do this, you need to be in the right town on the right day--these markets move from town to town with their schedules marked on signs where they take place. One town might have a market day once a week, while another larger one might have two, or even more than one market location.
When shopping in a local alimentari (grocery store) in Italy, you won't need a shopping cart. These shops are fairly small, and if you're trying to shop the way the locals do, you'll arrive with your own mesh or fabric bag to put your groceries in--or a basket, if you're feeling nostalgic. They will have just about everything you need... water, sodas, cheeses (cut to order), deli meats, sausage, produce... even very good wine (we paid no more than 5 Euro per bottle and never had a bad bottle). Perfect for gathering things for a picnic or making your own meal back at your rental apartment. Then there's the small, in-town, chain mercato, lots smaller than American supermarkets. Think--convenience store merged with a food market. These are in city centers and are a bit tight on space. Surprisingly, what looks like a small shop entrance on the the exterior often opens up to a larger than expected store inside--still not "super" though. They might have smaller sized shopping carts or convertible basket-trolleys. You can still bring your own bags to carry your purchases in.
Don't bother wasting a Euro on a cart unless you're buying lots of wine and water bottles
The same is true of larger supermercarto, usually located at one end of a town or outside the town limits entirely, except the aisles are larger and they will offer shopping carts--for a loaner fee. The first time we experienced this we were quite surprised. The carts lock together in a specific area (usually near the entrance) and a 1 Euro coin is needed to unlock one for use. If you remove the cart from the store and leave it in the parking lot, the store keeps your 1 Euro. If you return it to its lockup, you can retrieve your coin. This seems to work--we rarely saw carts left in parking lots. Here's a hint: Keep a 1 Euro coin in your car at all times in case you really do need to use a shopping cart.
People tend to shop differently in Italy and don't buy enough groceries for 1-2 weeks as many families do in the States. This is reflected in the smaller size of their refrigerators. Because of this, we rarely saw Italians with shopping carts overflowing with food, and in fact, rarely saw the carts being used at all, unless someone was buying a lot of overly heavy items. Most people tend to bring their own reusable mesh or fabric shopping bags, or even folding shopping carts like people did when I was a kid in the Fifties.
In fact, virtually everywhere (I believe it's because of a law), if you want a plastic shopping bag, you have to ask for one, and pay an extra 10 cents/Euro apiece. Essentially, you tell the checkout clerk beforehand how many bags you need so she can ring them up. And keep in mind, there are no bag boys in Italy. You bag your own groceries, unless you look befuddled and dumbfounded, like most newcomer tourists look--then you might have a nice lady helping you (or she might get very impatient, you never know.) If two of you are shopping, do like I do with Lucas--I load the groceries onto the belt area, he bags them.
(Read my article about the trend toward "Zero-Packaging" and "Zero Waste" markets in Europe HERE).
There is also another class of supermarket called the Hypermercato or for short Ipermercato (EE-perr-mher-COT-o). These are like the mega stores we have, Super-Walmart, BJs, etc. They are usually in an industrial area or well away from town centers and are as big as anything in the U.S. If you're vacationing in Italy, even for a prolonged stay in one location, you shouldn't ever need to waste your time in one of these--unless you're just curios about how similar or different they are from similar stores at home.
I should also address buying and pesatura, or weighing your produce in larger supermercadi. First of all, it's customary (for hygiene reasons) not to touch the produce with your bare hands. For this reason, you will see signs saying something like,
"Servitevi - Per motivi d'Igiene Non Toccare La Merce" Self Service - for reasons of hygiene Do Not Touch the merchandise
(A good phrase to remember, there are "Non Toccare" signs in other types of shops, too. )
Somewhere near the fruits and veggies you will see plastic gloves. Put one on the hand you intend to use to pick up your selections and use the other hand to hold the bag to put them into.
Now, for pesatura: look around for a scale, and place your bag on the the scale. Above the scale there will be a panel with pictures of the fruit and vegetables on sale that day. Press the the corresponding picture button and you'll get a label printed out. Stick it on your bag. Repeat with your other items.
One last tip: Now all supermarkets take credit cards. Some only use their own store cards--like some COOP locations. There should be an ATM nearby, so this shouldn't be much of a problem. Besides, to really experience the Italian lifestyle, try to steer clear from supermercati, even though the quality of produce in them is much superior from what is typically found in U.S. supermarkets. My best experiences have been shopping in local Mama e Papaalimentari, with the ultimate experience being the open air markets.
Happy shopping... and don't forget to buy a mesh shopping bag before heading to Italy.
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Our family of three traveled to Italy to discover our roots. We write about our Voyage, Italian lifestyle, cuisine, language, and talk about how the Voyage affected our lives back at home. Andiamo, take a Grand Voyage with us!