Adriatic beaches in Italy

Italy is a country of coastlines, and those include many beautiful beaches. Broad swaths of sand stretch into the distance at some of them. Tiny white crescents hide between rocky cliffs at others. While the beaches of Tropea and the Amalfi coast get lots of attention, there are also lovely beaches on the Adriatic, Italy’s eastern coast.

Like most beaches in Italy, you will find neat rows of sun umbrellas with lounge chairs, available for rent for a few Euros. Here are some photos and links to whet your appetite:1024px-Alimini_Otranto 1024px-Termoli_Spiaggia_di_Sant'Antonio Vieste pizzomuno Rodi_Garganico

Note: Nude beaches became legal in Italy in 2006. Click here for an article in English about them. Most of the beaches mentioned in the article are in central and northern Italy. Here is another article, in Italian, about the first nude beach in Abruzzo. There are others around southern Italy too, if you want to seek them out.

Rules of the table: Dining etiquette in Italy

Cappuccino_Loves_ItalyEverywhere you go, there are certain dining practices, expectations, and rules. In Argentina, mate (a tea) is served in a gourd with a silver straw, and is passed from person to person around the table. In Morocco, if you take a bone from the stew, you are expected to suck out the marrow. In Russia, table settings typically include a vodka shot glass. Japanese chopsticks are different from Chinese chopsticks.

I have always found Italy pretty laid back about rules in general, but there are some “food rules” that continue to come up. Cappuccino (and coffee with milk in general) is for morning. Don’t twirl spaghetti using a spoon. (That’s for children.) And please for the love of all that is edible, do not put cheese on seafood dishes.

Some people have compiled and explained these rules, and one of the places to find them is a website called Etiquette Scholar, which can help you with dining and related etiquette just about anywhere in the world.

Life in Italy also has a post about Italian food rules, and the comments on it are fun and instructive as well.

And Conde Nast Traveler‘s website has advice for Italian dining from a couple of Italians.

I’m sure during my travels in Italy, I have broken lots of the “rules” and nobody made a big deal of it. I know I’ve had cappuccino in the afternoon. Hubby loves grated cheese on his seafood pasta. But if I see an opportunity to learn more about Italian life and culture by adjusting some dining habits, I’ll do it! Most often, Italians will be gracious enough not to point out your gaffe, but if they do, I hope you’ll be able to thank them for teaching you something new. Buon appetito!

Supper Party by Gerard van Honthorst, ca. 1619. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Supper Party by Gerard van Honthorst, ca. 1619. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Book Review: Tino and the Pomodori

Tino and the Pomodori coverTino and the Pomodori by Tonya Russo Hamilton builds an engaging children’s story around the growing, harvesting, selling, and eating of home-grown tomatoes. Equally engaging is the introduction of simple words and phrases in Italian.

Tino works eagerly with his grandfather to plant and tend their tomato garden. The life cycle of tomatoes is described in the course of the story, from planting seeds taken from the previous year’s tomatoes, to celebrating the harvest at the end of the season. Hamilton takes a more practical than scientific approach to growing tomatoes, so don’t expect a botany lesson–but sit back and enjoy Tino’s excitement, and the loving guidance of his grandparents, as they grow and eat their delicious pomodori.

The watercolor illustrations by Britta Nicholson are simple and rustic, suited to the story. The book is just out this month (June 2014) from Gemelli Press, and would make a lovely gift for a budding gardener or a young Italophile-in-training.

This is Hamilton’s second book. She wrote Wrestling with the Devil with her father, a memoir of his immigration from Italy and wrestling/coaching career. See my review here. Tino and the Pomodori is also adapted from her father’s early life in Italy.

Capodimonte porcelain–a royal tradition from Naples

In the early 1700s, porcelain produced at Meissen became all the rage in Europe. The King of Naples and Sicily, Charles VII, married Maria Amalia, whose grandfather Augustus II of Poland had founded the Meissen factory, the first hard-paste porcelain factory in Europe.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

Pursuing his interest in the art, Charles VII founded the Capodimonte (top of the mountain) Porcelain factory in Naples in 1743. Production was well under way when Charles’ father, the King of Spain, died in 1759 and Charles took the Spanish throne and left the throne of Naples to his son Ferdinand. Before he left, however, he ordered the porcelain works demolished, and took the molds with him to Spain to found another factory there.

Ferdinand IV wasn’t so easily dissuaded–he had come to appreciate the porcelain art himself, and re-established the Capodimonte factory in 1772.  The detailed history (some found here) is more complex and involved a lot of experimentation with the porcelain “recipe”, hiring of various artists, chemists, directors, and so forth, and the establishment in Naples of an art academy.

Elaborate bisque figures, "The Triumph of Bacchus" from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Elaborate bisque figures, “The Triumph of Bacchus” from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Ferdinand was soon embroiled in Napoleon’s schemes for Italy, (I’ve posted about that before) and production of the royal sponsored Capodimonte porcelain ceased around 1818. The factory was purchased by Claudio Guillard and Giovanni Tourne, who continued to used the same mark as the royal factory. In 1834 the company was purchased by a Florentine, and about 1896 they combined interests with the Societa Ceramica Richard of Milan. They continue to produce porcelain in the Capodimonte style, and the style is widely copied today.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Most of the 18th century products are in museums or collections of the wealthy today. Are you interested in buying some later pieces? Here are some listing from Ebay.com. Some claim to be 19th century pieces, and others are newer.

QUESTION: What is your favorite art or craft from southern Italy? Please comment!

Ravello Concert Society: Classical music on the Amalfi Coast

The terrace at Villa Cimbrone. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The terrace at Villa Cimbrone. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

On a hilltop just a few kilometers from Amalfi, the town of Ravello has long been a haven for musicians, artists, writers, and actors. Founded in the 5th century, Ravello was named a World Heritage Site in 1996.

How did I miss it!!??

Although Ravello is linked with some very big names in the arts–Boccaccio, D. H. Lawrence, Greta Garbo, Tennessee Williams, Paul Newman–but perhaps the most enduring connection is with the composer Richard Wagner. Villa Rufolo (built in the 13th century) inspired Wagner for the stage design of his opera Parsifal.

The garden at Villa Rufolo.

The garden at Villa Rufolo.

Wagner’s music continues to anchor the festival music of Ravello, as it has for more than 60 years, but a wide variety of classical music is included in the programs these days.

The Ravello Concert Society’s website is worth a visit–and turn on the sound! You will enjoy the classical music as you browse the wealth of photos and information they provide, including details of the coming performances and links to purchase tickets.

The Ravello Festival website includes additional performance information–though not all of it is in English.

The pulpit in Ravello's Duomo.

The pulpit in Ravello’s Duomo.

Performances are offered throughout much of the year in historic villas, gardens, and on a spectacular concert stage overhanging the sea.

Looks like another destination to add to my travel wish list.

Are ‘pasta’ and ‘gluten-free’ compatible? Yes!

Marlie Johnson, 2004, in Calabria.

Marlie Johnson, 2004, in Calabria.

Today I’m welcoming my sister, Marlie Johnson, to the blog with a food post on eating gluten-free and Italian:

One of the best things about being part of a family with Italian roots has to be the food.  Pasta, pizza, pastries! These have been staples on the table my entire life… until about a year ago.  I was diagnosed with an allergy to wheat!  That explained a lot of problems I had been having, but it also caused havoc with my diet. After a lot of research, I decided it was easier to go gluten free than try to avoid just wheat.  Then I found that gluten free is not the tastiest.  I found a few gluten free pastas, but they didn’t taste very good.  I was very surprised when I found two companies in Italy who were making gluten free pasta, and it is good!   They are Delallo and Barilla.  Between the two, there is a great variety of pasta, including penne, spaghetti, orzo, shells, and fusilli – these are the ones I have found so far.Marlie-4

The most important lesson I have learned for cooking gluten free pasta is to not overcook it AT ALL.  It will turn to mush.   If you are going to add the pasta to a sauce and bake it, then stop cooking it about a minute before the directions for al dente – it will finish cooking while baking, and be perfect.

Here is a recipe that I have used gluten free penne in, and it turned out great.  I had it “taste tested” by people who only eat gluten free, and several who eat anything!  They all said it was really good, and asked when I was going to make it again.

Here is the original recipe (what I changed follows):

1 lb hot Italian sausage links                    1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1 (16 oz ) package of rigatoni                   2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (24 oz) jar of marinara sauce                 salt and pepper to taste

1 bulb fennel, trimmed, thinly sliced       1 cup shredded Monzzarella

1/2 cup grated Parmesean                           1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup grated Asiago                                  1/2 med. yellow onion, chopped.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and cook pasta until almost tender, about 10 minutes.

Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, turning frequently, until cooked through.  Remove from skillet, cool, and cut into slices.  Add the garlic, fennel and onion to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the roasted red peppers, basil and sausage and the marinara sauce.  Heat through over low heat until warmed.

Marlie-2

Ready to bake…

Combine the pasta with the sauce and vegetables in a 9 x 13 baking pan.  Spread the cheeses on top.  Garnish with a few fennel leaves.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and broil for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned.

The changes I made are:

I used bulk sausage instead of links.

I used Barilla Gluten Free Penne Pasta, and cooked it one minute less than the package called for al dente.

I cooked the vegetable for about 10 -12 minutes, until the fennel was almost fully cooked.

I did use a jar of marinara… (sorry, Grandma)

…. and ready to eat!

Would I change anything else the next time I make it?  I would try it with sweet Italian sausage, or an equal mix of hot and mild.  It had great flavor, but it was spicy hot!  For me this one is a keeper, and I will make it gluten free for everyone who is coming to dinner!

Serve with salad, or a green vegetable, garlic bread and your favorite wine.  Watch salad dressings for gluten…it hides in all kinds of condiments!  You can make croutons and garlic bread from gluten free bread.   Rudi’s brand bread is the best I have found.  It is good for French toast ….if you want to send your taste buds a little farther north in Europe!

Ricotta-Almond Cake: Make it. Eat it. Die happy.

Ricotta-Almond Cakes (1280x721)I was Googling around looking for Italian food post ideas, and saw this Ricotta-Almond Cake picture on a website called Italian Food Forever. I love almonds, but it sounded like it might be a complicated pastry thing, and maybe more than I wanted to try making.

However, in its favor, I was recently given a container of almond meal/flour, which was one of the (rather short list of) ingredients in the recipe, and I had been looking for a way to use it. Sometimes I find foods and recipes online that look good, and I blog about them without making them myself. But this time, I decided, I’ll make it and report the results.

The only ingredient I didn’t have on hand was ricotta, which was easily solved at the grocery store. I also used low-fat ricotta rather than the full-fat called for in the recipe, and instead of sliced almonds, I took some whole almonds and whirled them in my mini food chopper for a chopped up texture.

I cannot be trusted with full recipes of dessert lying around the house, so I halved the recipe, and then baked the cake in two small pie tins–the kind that frozen pot pies come in. (I confess I don’t own a springform pan, but I could borrow my mom’s.) Fortunately for me, a fellow Italophile stopped by while the cakes were in the oven, so I gave one of them to her. I was left with one small cake to share with my hubby. I cut it in half and took a photo of it on a favorite plate I brought back from Italy… and then before I even started making dinner I took a bite of the dessert. With all the self-control I could muster, I took the plate to my husband and offered him a bite. I did manage to save half of it for us to eat after dinner! It was moist and rich, yet not heavy as I had expected. Ricotta-Almond Cake (678x1280)

I will be making this again. You should too!

Here’s the recipe just as it appears on Italian Food Forever:

Ricotta Almond Cake

Yield: Serves 8 – 10     Prep Time: 10 mins    Cook Time: 45 mins

Ingredients:

1 Cup Full Fat Ricotta Cheese
4 Large Eggs, Separated
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups Almond Meal
1 Teaspoon Finely Chopped Lemon Rind
1/3 Cup Sliced Almonds
Powdered Sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Use baking spray or lightly grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
Use an electric hand mixer to beat together the ricotta cheese, egg yolks, extract, and sugar until smooth.
Stir in the lemon zest and almond meal.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Fold half the egg whites into the almond mixture, then fold in the rest.
Spread the batter into your prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the sliced almonds.
Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool the cake for 10 minutes then remove the sides.
Cool completely, then lightly dust the top with powdered sugar and serve.

I didn’t get the prep time down to ten minutes, but I found it wonderfully easy to put together, and definitely something I’d serve for special occasions or for dinner guests.

The Italian Food Forever website contains a trove of recipes, and lots of other Italian resources besides. The recipes are well indexed making it easy to find what you want, and the photos are delicious to look at. It inspired me, and might just inspire you as well!

Book Review: 100 Places in Italy…

100 placesSusan Van Allen’s love for Italy has taken her from the knobby toe of the boot to its mountainous cuff, and this guide delivers a kick in the pants to get you planning your own next adventure there. 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is in its second edition, and is certainly not limited to women’s interests–but it reads like listening to your girlfriend’s advice on what made her trip to Italy so fantastic.

In another sense, it’s a great reference book because it’s divided into practical sections, sections like “The Divine” (Italy is full of that!), Gardens, Beaches, Indulge Your Tastebuds, and Shopping. Other sections inspire you to actively engage the Italian culture, including Active Adventures, Cooking Classes, and Learn Italian Crafts and Culture. And with many chapters, Van Allen includes advice on where to eat, or places to stay, to make your visit a “Golden Day”, one of those travel experiences you’ll never forget.

Van Allen incorporates the advice of other Italophile writers, too, and includes appendices on travel, budget, and packing tips. There are frequent tips for recommended reading, and references to helpful websites throughout the book.

The book covers all of Italy, not just the south, but I’ve chosen a couple of paragraphs (from the section on Active Adventures, and a chapter on Hiking) for you, as a sample of Van Allen’s writing:

“My favorite coastal hike is the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) above the Amalfi Coast. Here steep paths, that were once used for mules to bring goods to the mountain villages, take you through lemon groves, forests, and vineyards. You get great views of the candy-colored villages below that stretch out to the tantalizing sea horizon.

“But even with a map, parts of the Sentieri degli Dei are not easy to follow, so to the rescue comes Francesco Carpegna, an energetic, silver-haired ex-New Yorker who’s lived in Positano for twenty years and created a company called Walking with the Gods. He can be booked to lead your hike and along the way he’ll fill you in on the many legends that surround this amazing stretch.”

I’m glad I bought the book in e-book version. It will be easy to take with me on my next adventure to Italy!