In a few weeks my sisters, brother-in-law, and niece will visit Pompeii for the first time. I can hardly wait to see their reactions to that amazing place! Here are some photos from my last visit there. Mosaic tiles, sculpture, fresco, and beautiful detail–imagine what a rich atmosphere this place had in its day!
In April, after a few days up north in Lucca, I’ll return to the south of Italy for about ten days. This time my two sisters and brother are traveling with me (along with two husbands and a daughter), and I’m so excited to share a few days near Sorrento with them.
Honestly, we are all very eager for this trip. Our beloved mother passed away last September. She was probably with me when I took these photographs in Sorrento in 2004, featuring architectural details from the cloister of a former monastery of Saint Frances of Assisi. It is a beautiful building, and a popular wedding venue. We were both attending Italian language school in Sorrento at the time, and had a wonderful two weeks there. On this trip, we will be in Italy on Mom’s birthday, and look forward to sharing memories of her as we travel together.
I will soon begin posting regularly again. Thanks for your patience, to all my readers!
One of my favorite bloggers about Italian things (in this case, Sicilian things) has her house near Palermo for sale now that she has moved to England. Isn’t it a beauty?
Southern Italy is full of surprises for me, and here is the latest: reported evidence that the 15th century Eastern European prince known as Vlad Dracula is buried in Naples! I knew that the royal family of Naples in this period had ties to several Eastern European kingdoms and principalities, but I had never heard the story related in this article from Hurriyet Daily News. And his daughter married a Neapolitan nobleman? As a novelist with a lifelong fascination with all things medieval, I want to know her story! Better yet, write her story.
Earliest known image of Vlad Dracula, published in Germany in 1488, is in the Public Domain, and found at Wikimedia Commons.
Do you find the claims in the article convincing? Intriguing? Preposterous?
These first days of 2017 have been frosty where I live, and this recipe for pasta e fagioli seems like the perfect supper tonight. Do you have a simple go-to Italian supper? Please share in the comments!
As I’m writing this, the weather is damp and chilly, and the mid-winter is a great time for pasta e fagioli, an Italian peasant dish that has as many versions as there are Italian kitchens, I think. It might be Italy’s best known meatless meal, although many recipes add meats like pancetta, diced ham, salt pork, or bacon.
Today I’m making a meatless version, but not truly vegetarian, since I’m using chicken broth. One thing I like about pasta e fagioli is the use of basics. I am rarely without onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, a can of chopped tomatoes (if I don’t have fresh ones to use), a can of beans, and some pasta.
Regarding the seasonings: Since it’s a wintertime dish, dried herbs are entirely appropriate–basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley. Where I live, I have parsley growing…
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Perhaps you have (as I have) been thinking of central Italy more often the last couple of weeks, following news of the devastating earthquake which destroyed several towns in the mountains between Perugia and L’Aquila on August 24.
Amatrice, a town of about 2,600 residents, was about 75% destroyed. The death toll is nearing 300 in the region, including several other villages with major destruction. In addition to the tragic loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods, nearly every historic church in Amatrice was destroyed. The city’s bell tower survived the quake, and now stands over piles of rubble.
For about sixty years, from Italian unification up to 1927, Amatrice was part of L’Aquila, before being annexed to Lazio. L’Aquila, about 75 km to the south in Abruzzo, suffered its own devastating earthquake seven years ago. Last month L’Aquila’s annual religious festival, the Perdonanza Celestiniana, cancelled all social and cultural activities, all but the religious rites, in solidarity with Amatrice and surroundings for this year’s disaster .
Italian foodies might honor and remember the town with a dinner of Pasta all’Amatriciana, and I’ve been scouring recipe books and the internet reading about this traditional dish of Amatrice.
The traditional pasta, bucatini, is a long hollow tubular shape, which, frankly, I find a challenge to eat because it isn’t as flexible as typical long spaghetti or linguine. It tends to sproing off the fork and fling bits of sauce, however Marcella Hazen, in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, says, “It’s impossible to say ‘all’amatriciana’ without thinking of ‘bucatini.’ The two are as indivisible as Romeo and Juliet.” If you’ve never used bucatini, give it a try, but another long pasta would be an acceptable substitute.
Now, the traditional meat is called guanciale, a bacon made from the jowls of pigs that feast on acorns, according to Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy cookbook. Good luck finding guanciale if you aren’t in Italy. Pancetta is a good substitute and more widely available in the USA, and bacon is an acceptable substitute.
The traditional cheese is pecorino Romano, a very sharp sheep milk cheese which Hazen considers indispensible to amatriciana sauce, though it is too sharp for her taste as a table cheese. It’s readily available, so no need to fall back on the parmesan.
With all that in mind, here’s my proposed recipe, adapted from several sources:
2 tablespoons olive oil, or half oil, half butter
1/2 lb. pancetta, cut in thin strips
1 dried red chili pepper or flakes (amount to taste)
1 medium onion, sliced thin or diced fine
1 lb. tomatoes, chopped (peel them for a smoother sauce)
1 lb. bucatini or other long pasta
plenty of grated pecorino Romano cheese
Heat olive oil (and butter, if using) over medium heat, and saute the pancetta for about five minutes. Add chili or flakes to taste, and continue cooking until pancetta browns a little. Add onion and cook until golden. Stir in the tomatoes and cook about fifteen to twenty minutes, until the sauce thickens.
While the sauce cooks, heat a large pot of salted water to boiling, and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta. Remove the chili pepper from the sauce if you have used a whole one. Then add the pasta to the sauce in its pan, and toss well.
Serve with plenty of pecorino Romano
We had an early warm spell this year in March and April, giving a boost to fruit crops in our area. That includes my honey fig tree, which produced several dozen figs, and is on it’s way to a second crop–if fall weather lasts long enough to ripen them.
In Sulmona, Italy our landlady for a few weeks, Signora Giusseppina, brought us bags of fresh figs and hung them on our door. They were dark, purplish and dripping sweetness. I’m in a different climate, and my honey figs are pale green even when they ripen.
The figs I have already picked are delicious, and here’s my favorite way to prepare them: Wash them off, trim off the stem, and cut in half from stem to base. The skin is edible, and pretty difficult to remove from a ripe fig.
Melt two or three tablespoons of butter in a pan on medium-high heat, and place the figs cut side down in the butter. Let them fry until they begin to brown. It won’t take long.
Turn the heat down a smidge, and add a little orange juice. Just a couple of tablespoons, from a fresh orange if you have on (though I am not a purist about it). Let that sizzle in the pan for another couple of minutes.
Now spoon those babies out onto a plate and eat them. I especially love them for breakfast, dessert, or as a side with lunch or dinner. In other words, anytime at all!
Now I would like to find a savory fig recipe–so, readers, what do you suggest?