Another generation of Christmas torcetti

This year marks a very special milestone for my family–the birth of our first grandchild. And though she is too young to eat any, I look forward to making some torcetti while I am visiting my daughter and son-in-law, and introducing the baby to the family tradition.

So here’s a link to Grandma Mary’s torcetti recipe, and a photo of her great-great granddaughter, Cosette.

Grandbaby Cosette holding a photo of her mom wearing the same dress, both at age two weeks!

Grandbaby Cosette holding a photo of her mom wearing the same dress, both at age two weeks!


Food confession!

Brace yourselves, because here it comes: I don’t really like gelato.

I know it’s a heretical view–my Italian blood must be too thinned out by mixing with English, German, and miscellaneous other roots.

Caserta gelatoBut we were encouraged by my friend Nicola in Gaeta, to stop in at his cousin’s gelateria when we visited Caserta.  So we located Bianco Bio at Via Ferrante 38, just a few blocks from our hotel and right on the way to the royal palace. They sell organic gelato, a little pricier than the typical gelato, but my oh my! I ordered a coconut cone, and it was delicious!! Too bad we weren’t in Caserta longer–I’d have gone back for more. If you ever find yourself in Caserta–visiting the royal palace, maybe?–stop by Bianco Bio for a gelato treat.

Gaeta and tiella!



Thanks to my Facebook friend Nicola Tarallo, Vern and I enjoyed a fun afternoon in Gaeta, Nico’s home town and home of the savory pie called tiella. Through his website and books, Nico is doing all he can to put Gaeta on the map and tiella in your kitchen.

After corresponding via Facebook off and on for a year or so, I was happy to stop in Gaeta and finally meet Nico in person. Vern and I visited Gaeta several years ago, but this time we had a one-man public relations firm showing us around. We strolled along the oldest street in the original townsite listening to his steady patter of details about the history and life of Gaeta. Nicola studied English in Washington state (where I now live).

Gaeta 3 (768x1024)Our first stop was a tiella bakery, Antico Forno Giordano–in business more than 120 years according to their sign. There was a line out the door when we arrived–always a good sign for any food place, right? Inside, Nico introduced us to the baker, explained the different kinds of tiella, and we had a photo op with the baker.

Nico, me, and the baker.

Nico, me, and the baker.

We bought four different types of tiella, 1/4 of a pie each, for Vern and I to have a late lunch. Octopus tiella? We thought we should try it, even though neither of us is big fans of octopus. Next, escarole tiella. That’s right, not just a fluffy addition to your salad, escarole is often cooked in Italian dishes, which reduces the slight bitterness. Next, zucchini and onion tiella. Yummy! The fourth, I think, was eggplant–more delicious flavors!

But before we tasted any of them, Nico asked what we’d like to drink with our lunch. Wine! (What else?) He led us down a side street (more like a little alley) to what looked like the back door of a shop, where a couple of men were busy working. In a blur of Italian he conveyed our request, and they invited us to step inside. On a waist-high shelf, four giant vats of wine awaited bottling as the need arose. We were offered tastes, and made our selection. Grabbing an empty (previously used) liter bottle, the younger man began filling it for us, but the older stopped him when he saw Vern taking a photo. He called me over, put the bottle in my hand and invited me to open the tap myself for the picture you see here. Oh, the price? About two bucks.

The wine shop.

The wine shop.

We’d parked near a park, and decided to head back there to eat, hoping to find a dry spot after a rain squall passed through. But along the way, Nico took us into his favorite pizzeria: Pizzeria Rustica. Another line out the door, even longer this time, but moving quickly. Inside, three or four men with cleavers hacking large square pizzas into pieces to sell. If I had a video, it would be a blur with the activity going on back there! Unfortunately, we had more than we could finish with the tiella, because I would love to have tried some of the great looking pizza too.

At Pizzeria Rustica, where hunks of pizza were flying out the door!

At Pizzeria Rustica, where hunks of pizza were flying out the door!

We did find a park bench, and continued to visit with Nico. He’s excited about a new Russian translation of his cookbook, Mangia Tiella! which is already available in English and Spanish. He has written a travel guide to Gaeta, and hopes to publish more books in that vein. You can also find him on Facebook.

Vern and I continued down the road to Caserta, still feeling the buzz of energy from Nico’s enthusiasm for his home town.

“First mother of Italian cooking in America”

That’s how one New York food expert described Marcella Hazan, whose six cookbooks are prized classics of Italian cooking and eating.

Thank you, Marcella, and rest in peace.

Readers, enjoy this New York Times story about Marcella.

Calabrian caviar, anyone?

Sardella, photo by RennyDJ found in Wikimedia Commons.

Sardella, photo by RennyDJ found in Wikimedia Commons.

I’m always learning about Italian foods. Here’s one, featured today in Italian Notebook. “Caviar” that is really baby sardines, spiced up with peperoncini. It’s eaten spread on bread–the same way I’ve seen Russian kids eat caviar. I’ll be on the lookout for it soon in Calabria.

Readers, have you tried it? What do you think?

Italian Food: I’m growing some now!

The Greengrocer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (16th century). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Greengrocer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (16th century). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Today I finished planting my garden, and I was just imagining what I’ll be doing in a couple of months with my crops. Some of them don’t have particularly Italian applications that I know of. For example, rhubarb. It’s ready for pie-making now.

Asparagus hasn’t started peeking up yet, but I’m hoping to eat some in the next few weeks.

I have a patio pot with arugula planted in it this week. It’s too bitter for some people but I love the spicy bite of it in a salad, or even mixed into a sausage & potato Zuppa Toscana.  And I’m growing the potatoes too.

Green beans in two varieties–one is the typical American string bean, the other the wide, creamy Romano. Looking forward to some of those sauteed with a bit of bacon!

I know I’ll be overrun with zucchini, because I planted FOUR of them. Aren’t they grand producers? And besides using them in minestrone, or sauteed with some tomato and basil, I’ll have plenty for zucchini bread. And for gifts.

In other garden beds I have some mixed salad greens, sweet onions, peas, beets, carrots, and red Swiss chard. I’ll plant a few tomatoes in another week or so. And scour my Italian cookbooks (and the web) for ways to use all of it.

Are you gardening? What’s your favorite thing to grow and eat Italian style?

My mouth is watering for tiella!

This week I confirmed that I will visit Gaeta in August and have some of their famous tiella. The photo above, from a Flavor of Italy blog, shows a few of the widely varied fillings used in tiella.

I found a recipe for tiella on Lidia’s Italy website, and it looks yummy! The recipe calls for escarole–something use more often in salads than in cooked dishes, which makes this recipe all the more intriguing to me.

When I go to Gaeta, I’ll be meeting Nicola Tarallo (aka Nico Rosso), author of the ebook Mangia Tiella! We’ve corresponded on Facebook before, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Gaeta from him, as well as trying some tiella at last.

Have any of you readers made, or eaten, tiella before? Please share!!


Remembering Salvatore: Part 3 of 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the last two weeks, I introduced Salvatore, and shared some of his experience during World War II.

After hearing about the priest, we threaded our way through the streets of Piedimonte Matese, impressed at the pace Salvatore set for us, given he was older than we were by thirty years or more. As he was unlocking the door to his house, I noticed a piece of ancient history built right into the door frame. The lower two or three feet on the left hand door frame was made of a fluted stone column, broken off at an angle. The typical Italian house construction, thick walls with stucco finish, surrounded it.

“Where did you get this?” I asked.

“My father found that column in the river many years ago, and had it in our home. When we were rebuilding the house after the war, we put it in this wall.”

I don’t recall asking what his father was doing when he found it. Fishing, maybe? I’ll bet you’ve never gone fishing and found an ancient Roman marble column! I found a silver dime once when I was digging in the garden, but that marble column has it beat. It must have been found before modern antiquities laws were enacted in Italy, because items like that are no longer considered ‘yours for the taking’ even if found on your own property.

We entered a corridor and climbed to the second floor  balcony to enter his home. (This is called the first floor in Italy, being the first floor above the ground floor.) It was cool and spacious, with dark furniture and nicely framed paintings. Light filtered in from a courtyard filled with plants.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Salvatore introduced us to his wife, who spoke no English. She greeted us kindly, with a knowing resignation that led us to believe we were not the first strangers her husband had brought home for a visit. After a short time she brought a silver tray with small glasses, and three bottles of liqueur with hand-written labels taped to them. After that, she left us to visit, and we didn’t see her again except to say goodbye.

Salvatore told us about his sons. One had followed him into the teaching profession, and the other was handicapped in some way, and required special care.

“Please try the drinks I made,” he urged us, and poured dark liquid from a tall bottle. “It is made from hazelnuts,” he said of the first one. A small taste was enough of that. Next came cherry liqueur, burning a deep red path down our throats. Salvatore set that aside, clearly eager to get to his last offering.

“I make this from my own recipe. It’s like limoncello,” he said.

Mixed citrus--from Wikimedia Commons

Mixed citrus–from Wikimedia Commons

We knew limoncello, and enjoyed it, but his drink was more orange colored than any we had tried. And more delicious! He smiled with satisfaction at our response. “It has not only lemons. I make it with oranges, lemons, and tangerines. My own recipe.” He beamed as we sipped the golden nectar. “I grow the fruit right here,” he said, gesturing toward the verdant courtyard.

“Do you share your recipe?”

“Of course!”

As he went to get paper and pen, I thought to myself, of course he shares his recipe. He is a man who shares his whole life, openhanded and openhearted with friends and strangers alike. He scratched out the recipe, with careful instructions, and we visited some more, went out on the balcony to see the garden, looked at paintings on his walls and photos of his sons.

As the afternoon wore away, we reluctantly excused ourselves to go back to the hotel. Our heads swirled with the stories, but more than that—Salvatore’s life itself was vibrant with generosity, joy, patience.

More than eight years later we still think of him and marvel. Who would have thought that the strongest image of life we encountered in Italy was an elderly, nearly toothless man who earned his living teaching a ‘dead’ language? Salvatore—that name means ‘savior’ and Salvatore’s spirit of vibrant life seems just what the world needs. Someone willing to do good in the face of ridicule, to foster young lives (human as well as plants), to remember the past and look to the future, and to share generously with strangers.

Maybe you are as eager to have Salvatore’s limoncello recipe as I was. I’m sharing it here, just as he wrote it for us.

1. You must take two ripe lemons, two oranges, and two tangerines (six in all);

2. Peel them completely;

3. Clean all the peels from the so called “pane”, that is the “bread” which is the white material between the peel and the fruit;  with your left hand you maintain still the peel by means of a table fork while with your right hand you liberate the peel from the white part, that is the “bread”, till the peel becomes rather transparent;

4. Put all these peels in one liter of liquor-alcohol and leave in a well closed glass container for about one month or more, if you prefer.  The fruit must not be placed in the container:  you eat apart [eat that separately];

5. Dissolve 1 kilo of sugar in one liter of hot water and mix with the alcohol after having taken away the peels.  At last you fill and keep in a well closed bottle.  The liquor is good to drink after two or three months. [Could he have meant “for two or three months”?]