New world record from Molise?

Snow in Capracotta. Image from the Capracotta.com website, which also provides ski information in three languages.

Snow in Capracotta. Image from the Capracotta.com website, which also provides ski information in three languages.

We rarely hear from Molise, that region southeast of Abruzzo, northwest of Puglia. Molise extends from the mountains of central Italy to the Adriatic coast. But a village in Molise made international news today, boasting a world record snowfall of more than 100 inches–in just 18 hours! Take a look here. 

The village of Capracotta (translation: cooked goat. Hmmm.) is in ski country, so winter snow is common. But their recent snowfall was out of the ordinary, even for them! Check out this webcam for an image of Piazza Falconi.

Abruzzo’s gift that keeps on giving

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo on the table.

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on the table.

We drank a lot of wine in Italy. Italian wine. Big mouthfilling reds and crisp Calabrian whites. But one of the most lasting wine pleasures we discovered was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine I had never heard of before spending a few weeks in Abruzzo.

So last week my brother, Glenn, forwarded me an email from a wine store, touting “a true gem of a wine” in Fantini’s 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The email claims a wine score of 90 for it, though my online research turns up 85 or 87. Am I concerned? Naaa. I’m gonna go look for some of this, which is available from several places at about $10 a bottle, and I’m gonna bring it home, and I’m gonna cook up some pasta with sauce that includes zucchini (because I am overloaded with it right now). Then I’ll pour a couple of big red glasses of that stuff.

I’ll be wishing my brother was here to enjoy it, like we did in Sulmona in 2004 at the Cantina di Biffi. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has become my go-to red since then.

Readers, please share your best Italian wine experience in the comments. What made it special?

Destination weddings, Italian style

Wedding in Catania, "Carrozza in Piazza Duomo" by Giovanni dall'Orto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Wedding in Catania, “Carrozza in Piazza Duomo” by Giovanni dall’Orto (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Does the Villa Caesar Augustus on Capri sound like your ideal wedding venue? Maybe you are more inclined to exchange vows on the Lovers’ Walk  along the Amalfi Coast. Or take a few of your friends on an antique sailboat and tie the knot on the water. Destination weddings in Italy come in all shapes and sizes.

Commercial wedding organizers are prepared to help you plan a wedding just about anywhere in the Italian South. (No doubt the north, too, but that is somebody else’s blog!) Here are some examples:

A 1950s Italian wedding.

A 1950s Italian wedding.

Sicily: A seventeenth century baroque castle near Taormina offers garden weddings for up to 250 guests, with on-site catering and hotel rooms for about 50 people. Enjoy music and dancing ’til dawn.

Calabria: A medieval chapel attached to a nineteenth century luxury residence near Cosenza, with religious ceremonies available in the chapel or civil ceremonies in other parts of the venue.

Basilicata: A masseria, or large farmhouse, in the hills, has been converted to a beautiful wedding venue with lots of privacy, and a more informal environment.

Apulia: Need space for 800 of your closest friends? Get married on the beach at Monopoli. The club has a private beach and restaurant–with parking for 500 cars.

Campania: Romantic to the core, Sorrento offers numerous wedding venues, and the possibility of a religious wedding inside the medieval cloisters in the historic center of town. Stunning views of the Gulf of Naples and Vesuvius.

A wedding in Amalfi. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

A wedding in Amalfi. © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Abruzzo: In a castle near Chieti, you can host your reception dinner in the cantina, the castle’s winemaking cellar, surrounded by enormous wooden casks. The castle sits among grapevines on a hillside above the Adriatic Sea.

One Italian wedding website, Slow Dreams, has an especially helpful page on legal factors involved with marrying in Italy. A Google search for ‘wedding venues in Italy’ turned up nearly three million hits–you won’t have any trouble finding a wedding planner to help you. If you have accomplished the first step–finding your lifelong partner–see what Italy has to offer for your perfect wedding.

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.

 

Winter pasta: Pasta e fagioli

The pasta e fagioli I made while writing this blog post.

The pasta e fagioli I made while writing this blog post.

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 outdoors much of the winter too, so I’ll chop some fresh to add with the pasta. Some add some zip with red pepper flakes. I like ground black pepper, and am fairly generous with it.

Regarding the beans: Ideally I would use cannellini beans, however today a can of great northern beans was handy. Kidney or pinto beans will work. I haven’t tried it with garbanzos, but  wouldn’t rule them out if that’s what I had available.

Regarding the pasta: Most recipes suggest ditalini, the tiny rings I have always thought of as macaroni salad pasta. But any smallish pasta will work. Because I’m usually cooking for two, I rarely use a full box of pasta.  What I like to use in soup is the last little bit left over from a box–so today I’m throwing in a cup or so of whole grain rotini. 

A pot of pasta e fagioli will make a great light supper with nothing more than garlic bread or cheesy focaccia. Top each bowl with parmesan. If you have big eaters to feed, you can pair the soup with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and add a simple dessert.

Wherever you are, you can enjoy a little taste of Italy with an easy to make, yummy to eat, pot of pasta e fagioli!

Italian Christmas: Buon Natale!

Today I’m sharing a link to Walks of Italy’s blog, a great piece on Christmas traditions in Italy. Walks of Italy offers some interesting touring options, and custom walks for those with specific interests. I hope you enjoy this post, and wish you all a blessed holiday!

http://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/traditions-2/christmas-traditions-in-italy

Photo by Gino il Pio via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Gino il Pio via Wikimedia Commons.

Calabria from a bicycle

Today I’m sharing a video I found on YouTube, the bicycle tour of a British guy named Pete, through Calabria. I encourage you to take a look for more of his videos–a nice combination of video footage, his own commentary, and some stills edited in. If you’ve considered cycling through Calabria, Pete’s experience may help you prepare. And if you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, you may be inspired to bicycle your way through some of those calories!

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.