Buon Anno 2020


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Un po' di pepe instagram top 9Buon Anno a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’, vicini e lontani!  Spero che 2020 porta buona salute e gioia a voi e ai vostri cari.

Happy New Year readers of  ‘Un po’ di pepe’, near and far.  I hope 2020 brings good health and joy to you and your loved ones!

It is the end of another decade!  WordPress keeps end of year stats which I love to share because they are so interesting.*  In 2019, Un po’ di pepe had over 12,000 views from 112 different countries!  I wish I could visit all of of them!  The top posts of 2019 are listed here, in case you missed any of them.  4 of the most viewed posts were published in 2019, and 4 were written as part of blogging linkups. I also discovered that the 5 most viewed posts all come out as top suggestions in google searches.  Molto cool!  Several book reviews post were published, and they can be found under the category ‘Libri’.

Based on the number of views, the top posts of 2019 are:

#9 Cristo si è fermato a Eboli.  This post from January is a book review of an Italian classic-one of my favourite books, Christ Stopped at Eboli.  I recommend everyone read it before visiting I Sassi di Matera.

#8 My recipe for Olive Oil Limoncello Cake was inspired by an art retreat at Casa Berti near Lucca, while surrounded by olive trees, freshly pressed olive oil and limoncello. It received increase exposure as a link on a new post Olio d’oliva in November and on Mamma Prada’s newsletter.Olive oil limoncello cake

#7 I have been to 14 out of the 20 regioni-regions of Italia, and love them all, but my favourite, of course is Puglia. Puglia-La Mia Regione Preferita lists my top reasons to love Puglia.Porto, San Domino, Isole Tremiti, Puglia

#6 Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is one of my favourite museums in Roma. This 2017 post comes up 10th in a google search and was the inspiration for another posts that hardly anyone read- Hairstyling in Ancient Roma. Have you been to Palazzo Massimo?

#5 In My Kitchen in Puglia  This post about my summer cucina and the amazing barrel-vaulted stone ceiling was written as part of the ‘In  my  kitchen’ worldwide blog linkup hosted monthly by Sherry’s Pickings

#4 I was surprised to see La Trinità di Masaccio on this list again!  Yipee!  When I first published this art history lesson, it had about 30 views, but I just discovered that it comes up as the 4th listing in a google search! This explains the small but steady trickle of views.

My quick sketches of the vanishing point, perspective lines and triangular composition. The colour image is my entry ticket from 2004!

#3 Polignano a Mare In this 2016 post about the stunning clifftop town on the coast of Puglia, read about my probable encounter with the mysterious ‘stair poet’  and learn what infraditi are.

#2-The number 2 spot is a tie! In second spot once again is 2015’s Grano Arso about a Pugliese gastronomic tradition that honours the resilience of our contadini ancestors.  In 2017 I did a reading on grano arso at the Association of Italian Canadian Writers Conference, which was published- Grano Arso in print.   My first publication that is not about diabetes! There is not a lot written on grano arso in English, which explains why the post comes up 5th on google search.Italian Canadiana Vol 32 2018 Grano Arso Cristina Pepe www.unpodipepe.ca

#2a  I am so super thrilled that L’Arte sa Nuotare not only made my top list but  tied for #2! In May I was in Firenze with my nipotina** Isabella.  We had a fabulous time and were on constant lookout for street art by Blub, the talented artist who plunges famous works of art underwater. This post also comes up as the 3rd  listing on a google search.  Spread the Blub love- more Blub in Blub a Napoli.Blub street art Firenze

#1 Italiano per Ristoranti-How to Pronounce your Restaurant Menu, this handy Italian menu pronunciation guide is once again the top post, by a longshot.  If you google ‘Italian pronunciation guide restaurant’ it comes out as the top suggestion! “Italian menu pronunciation’ comes in at #6 on the google listing.  This 2014 post was updated in 2016 and is available as a 6 page downloadable PDF via a link on the post.  Someday, I plan to expand and turn it into an ebook. Speriamo!

Bruschetta (broo.SKET.tah)

For 2020 my goals are simple….less stress, more exercise, more art and writing!

I would love to hear which post you liked best, and what you would like to read more about in 2020 on Un po’ di pepe?  Let me know in the comments.  Looking forward to writing more cose interresanti /interesting stuff in 2020.

Vi auguro un 2020 piena di gioia e buona salute!  Ciao, CristinaUn po' di pepe instagram top 9

*Note…WordPress’ method of collecting stats is odd.  The newest post counts as a ‘Home page’ view until the next one is published and I am not sure how much this changes the results.

**Nipote or nipotina means both niece and granddaughter in Italiano.  In this case, it means niece.

-detail of Lucania ’61 mural by Carlo Levi in Palazzo Lanfranchi, Matera from Wikimedia Commons

Il Zampognaro


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Zampognaro-traditional Abruzzese bagpipe playing shepherd Il Zampognaro (zahm•poh•NYAH•roh) is a part of most Italian Presepi or Nativity scenes.  Zampognari are traditional Abruzzese shepherds, playing bagpipes known as zampogne (zahm•POH•nyeh). I have wanted one for a long time, and wrote about it in Il Presepio and Il Presepio di Mamma. Last year in Napoli’s  Via San Gregorio Armeno I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to look for one!

Via San Gregorio Armeni Napoli, Antonio Pepe, www.unpodipepe.ca

‘Lavorazioni di Pastori e Scenografie Presepiati Antonio Pepe’, Via San Gregorio Armeno, Napoli (no relation!)

This year, I spent a few days in Lecce before going to Napoli.  Lecce is known for cartapesta-papier maché and I saw Nativity figures, so I searched and found my  hand made glazed terra cotta zampognaro.  He is smaller and does not look like the other figures, but he has so much character with his puffy cheeks, I can almost hear him playing Tu Scende dalle Stelle….

Are you wondering why Abruzzese bagpiping shepherds are in Italian presepi?  It has to do with la transumanza, the migration of animals along tratturi-established paths in use since pre Roman times that were protected by royal decree.  Pastori-shepherds moved their animals from the mountains of Abruzzo and Molise where they grazed in the summer, to la pianura, the lowlands of Puglia.  They did this to escape the snow, and in spring the sheep and goats were herded back to Abruzzo. The tratturi were used into the 1960’s, then trucks replaced the crossing by foot.view-from-hotel-certosa

During le feste Natalizie, December 8th to January 5th, zampognari in traditional dress would go to the villages to play for extra money or food, thus the zampognaro became symbolic of Christmas in Italia and earned a place in the Presepio.

La Transumanza: Cammino Reale/Royal Shepherd’s Track has been on the  tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 2006.  On December 11, 2019, it received UNESCO designation as ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’! Auguri zampognari!  Do any of you have un zampognaro?Presepio 2019

Cari lettori di Un po’ di pepe, Vi augura un Buonissimo Natale e un meraviglioso 2020 piena di gioia e salute!

Dear readers of Un po’ di pepe, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a marvelous 2020 filled with health and joy!

Ciao, Cristina

In my kitchen, December 2019


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Christmas villageIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in my kitchen! The traditional dolci di Natale baking is not until next week, but here is what has been happening in my kitchen so far this month.

Once again, I had a bancarella at the Italian Christmas Mercato, selling handpulled  original prints and handmade cards.  A few days before the event, I decided to make another new Christmas card.  My kitchen table turned into a ‘studio annex’,  full of sketches and linoleum carving tools for a few days!Linocut printmaking Fiat 500

I carved a Fiat Cinquecento (500) carrying a tree on the roof.  The prints barely dried in time, but were very popular!  More photos are on my instagram feed, which is linked in the sidebar.  This is the original 1957 Cinquecento model, with porte di suicidio-suicide doors that hinge on the left.  Find out more in the post The Original Cinquecento. Many of the purchasers had personal stories to tell me about what attracted them to it.  A subject for another post!Linocut Christmas cards Fiat 500

As usual, I made cookies to offer friends who came to visit me at the mercato.  This time I made espresso cookies.  Recipe available in Espresso Cookies.Espresso cookies

Saturday was Papà’s birthday.  He had urgent heart surgery in September, so we were very happy to celebrate this birthday!  Mamma and I made his favourite pasta,  tagliatelle the week before and froze them in little nests on cookie sheets.  They were dropped into boiling water straight from the freezer.Tagliatelle, handmade pasta

Last Christmas a friend brought Baci made with ruby cocoa beans from Italy.  This year I received a box as a gift, purchased from my local Italian deli.  What is ruby chocolate?  It is not white chocolate with pink coloring!  It is milk chocolate made with Brazilian cocoa beans that are a dark purple colour.  They are only fermented for a few days, so they do not turn brown, then citric acid is added to keep the pinky colour.  This is the same idea as squirting lemon juice on apples when making apple pie, to keep them from going brown.  The taste is very slightly berryish and lemony-because of the citric acid.  There are no other ingredients or flavourings added.  Is this just a marketing ploy?  Yes!  But since raspberry and lemon are my 2 favourite flavours, I like them anyways.  Have you tried Ruby Baci?

Panettone is plentiful in December, and I love panettone french toast.  The panettone already has so much flavour that all you really need to do is soak it in eggs and milk then cook it on the stovetop, or even bake it.  I added a bit of orange zest and topped it with fresh ricotta and a drizzle of maple syrup-I do live in Canada after all! Do not use expensive or homemade panettone for this.  The cheap cellophane wrapped ones are good for french toast.Panettone french toast

I made my favourite winter salad, Insalata Purtuall’ with fennel and oranges.  Insalata Purtuall, Orange and fennel saladSince the oranges had to be peeled, I candied the rind to use later this month for panettone or biscotti.Canditi, candied orange rindThe only Christmas baking so far in my kitchen are cranberry pistachio orange biscotti.  It was my first time making them and will definitely make them again.Cranberry pistachio biscotti

Read more about my family’s traditional Christmas baking in a previous post Dolci di Natale. Links for my recipe for Panettone with Orange Walnuts and Figs and for Crustoli can be found in this post.  We will be making Cauzuncill’ and Cartellate in a few days.

Thanks Sherry from Australia for hosting the monthly food blogging event, In My Kitchen (IMK). Read about what is happening in other world kitchens in December by clicking the link to Sherry’s Pickings.

Buon appetito, Cristina

Olio d’Oliva


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Olive oil section of supermercatoOlio d’oliva-olive oil has been essential to Mediterranean life for over 4,000 years.   It has been a major trading resource, is one of the main nutritional components of the Mediterranean diet and the healthiest source of fat, produced without the use of chemicals or industrial refining. Olive oil has also been used as a medication, soap, moisturizer and terra cotta lamp fuel.Pouring Famiglia Creanza Extra virgin olive oil

15 ml (1 tablespoon) of olive oil has 120 calories, 14g fat and no cholesterol. 75% of the fat is monounsaturated (MUFA-the good kind), 11% polyunsaturated (PUFA), 14% vegetable saturated fat and 0% trans fats.

Extra Virgin olive oil EVOO may be the healthiest thing in the kitchen. It has been associated with health benefits including protection from heart and blood vessel disease, decreased blood clotting, decreased risk of chronic diseases, improvement in bone and digestive health, stabilizing blood sugar and improved brain function.  These benefits are due to 2 main properties: Oleic acid and antioxidants.  Oleic acid, the main fat in olive oil is a MUFA with cholesterol lowering and antiinflammatory effects.La raccolta delle olive www.unpodipepe.ca

EVOO contains large amounts of antioxidants including tocopherols (vitamin E) and polyphenols (tyrosol, hydrotyrosol and oleocanthal) which protect against oxidation and spoilage in the oil—and also in the body ingesting the oil! That means you!  Antioxidants decrease oxidative damage caused by free radicals, which are believed to cause cell damage and contribute to cancer. Antioxidants also have antiinflammatory properties, especially oleocanthal which is nature’s ibuprofen.Olive, Casa Berti www.unpodipepe.ca

La Raccolta delle olive, the olive harvest is late October to early November, before the first frost. To produce the best quality oil, the olives are taken to il frantoio, the olive mill, within 24 hours of harvest.  My previous post La Raccolta delle Olive has a detailed explanation and photos of the entire harvest process, including the italian words for all of the steps.

The terms ‘first press’ and ‘cold pressed’ are outdated, and mainly used for marketing, since hydraulic presses are no longer used. Olives are crushed or ground-only once, then oil and water are separated from the olive paste using a centrifuge.  The colour of the oil ranges from grassy green to yellow gold, depending on the ripeness and type of olives and the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves. Oil is stored in stainless steel vats until it is bottled, to preserve nutrients, colour and flavour.

This fresh, pure olive juice is ‘virgin olive oil’ as it has not been refined or extracted using chemicals or heat. It can be considered ‘extra virgin olive oil’ if the acidity is less than 0.8%, with superior taste and aroma.  This is mostly related to the quality and freshness of the olives.

‘Pure’ ‘Fino’ or ‘Light’ are marketing terms for refined olive oil-not calorie or fat reduced oil. It is refined using solvents and high heat to neutralize the taste of the oil.  A small amount of EVOO is added for taste.  This allows the use of lower quality olives and blending oils from many sources, possibly increasing the shelf life and smoke point. Refining and heating destroys the antioxidants and vitamins in the oil, but it is still high in MUFA’s and has no trans fats.

Pomace olive oil is made from the pits, skin and sediment and removed using chemicals. It should not be eaten and is only used for deep frying or polishing furniture.

Fresh EVOO should taste clean, fresh and peppery and smell of olives, with a spicy/bitter ‘bite’ when it hits the back of the throat. This spiciness is the polyphenols!  Old or refined olive oil will not have this sensation.Ricotta fatta in casa

EVOO is used for pouring and drizzling directly on food crudo –raw, and for salads, vegetables, sauces, pasta, bread, soups.  There seems to be a notion-mostly in North America, that you cannot cook with olive oil.  This is not true!  Like most Mediterranean cooks, I use it almost exclusively.  In fact, I don’t think I knew other oils existed until I was in my 20’s!  The smoke point of olive oil is about 200°C (375-400°F) which is great for sautéing or shallow frying. Vegetables cooked in olive oil absorb the polyphenols from the oil, making them double antioxidanted!  Excessive heating such as deep frying destroys the antioxidant benefits, so only use older or lower quality olive oil. I have several different olive oils in my kitchen; a few decent ones for cooking and baking and a really good quality one for salads and drizzling.

Is your bottle of EVOO 100% real?  Unlike Europe, North American regulations do not require strict labeling of olive oil.  A 2010 report called ‘Oil Imposters’ from the UC Davis Olive Center stated that 69% of imported oil labeled as ‘Extra Virgin’ in California failed IOC standards.  Their lab found:

Poor quality oil-made with poor quality or improperly stored/processed olives

Oxidation- oil exposed to too much heat, light or age

Adulteration-oil cut with cheaper refined olive oil and soybean or canola oil

Tim Mueller discusses fraud in the olive oil market in his 2012 book Extra Virginity: The sublime and scandalous world of olive oil. I believe there has been a lot of improvement since 2012, but olive oil fraud still happens. It probably started in 4000 BC! In addition to the labeling, another problem is that most North American consumers do not know what real, fresh EVOO tastes like, and are used to poor quality oil.

How can you tell if your EVOO is the real? Here are some tips:

  • Taste-The oil should taste fruity, like olives and be peppery with a slight burn when it hits the back of the throat. The bitterness/spiciness is the polyphenols! This sensation decreases as the oil gets older or exposed to air and light.  Bitter is better!
  • Aroma. The oil should smell like olives or fruity. It should not smell moldy, or like hay, vinegar, sweaty gym socks or old salame.
  • Best before date and harvest date. Oxidation starts when the oil is produced. It is usually good for 18-24 months after extraction, if stored properly. Buy only amounts that will be consumed in a few months. Like wine, half full bottles of oil spoil faster. Unlike wine, olive oil does not age well! Keep bottles tightly capped.
  • Origins (same country, region, estate) ‘packaged in’ or ‘bottled in’ means the olives are not grown in that country. By the time of bottling and importing, the olives or oil is likely already 4-6 months old.
  • Marketing-Avoid products labelled ‘pure’, ‘fino’ or ‘light’.
  • Packaging Olive oil should be packaged in dark glass bottles or large tins which block UV light. Do not buy olive oil in plastic bottles.
  • Cost-EVOO should not be cheap. Producing quality oil takes time, labour and expense. 1L of olive oil requires 2,000 olives!
  • Buy from the farmer, or from someone who buys from the farmer. This is not easy outside of Mediterranean countries, California or Australia, but it is possible to find good quality olive oil. For example, here in Vancouver I know of 2 vendors who import oil directly from their family olive groves in Italia.

Olive oil limoncello cakePs If you love EVOO, try my Olive Oil Limoncello Cake

Ciao e buon appetito, Cristina

Sapori d’Autunno


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La Cupa, Orsara di Puglia, cachi, noceDalla terra alla tavola, farm to table cooking has always been a thing in Italia.  Food is prepared using local, seasonal ingredients which are at their optimum flavor.  Each season features its own specialties.  I sapori d’autunno, the flavours of autumn, feature the fruits of the harvest. Visiting Italia in the autumn will not leave you hungry or thirsty!  This is also a time to seek out sagre-wonderful food festivals dedicated to local specialties. There are regional differences, and specialties are prepared according to local tradition, but I will provide a general review of what you might find on your piatto. I am also including links to related previous posts and recipes.roasted chestnuts, castagne in campagna

Castagne (cas·TAH·nyeh). Chestnut trees have been growing in Italia since at least 2000 BC, the oldest ones being in Calabria.  Pushcarts selling castagne calde in paper cones will be found all over the country.  Everyone I know has an old pan at home with holes punched out the bottom to use for roasting castagne.  Don’t you have one?  Castagne can also be boiled with bay leaves or made into soup or chestnut honey, miele di castagne.  Chestnut flour is used to make pasta which is eaten with pesto in Liguria, and Castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake with olive oil, raisins, pine nuts, rosemary and orange rind.  This cake is originally Tuscan, but can be found in other areas too.  I tasted some in Roma, but it did not last long enough for a photo. Below is a poster for a Sagra della Castagna this weekend in Potenza, Basilicata.Basilicata Sagra della Castagna poster Zucca (ZOO·kah)  Zucca and zucca gialla are pumpkin and squash.  I adore zucca!Zucca Orsara di PugliaIt is used to make delicacies such as risotto di zucca, gnocchi di zucca and tortellini, ravioli or agnelotti stuffed with zucca, cheese, nutmeg and amaretti.  Mmmm.  No food goes to waste, so any leftover zucca goes to feed the pigs! gnocchi di zuccaSpeaking of decreasing waste, I like to recycle my Hallowe’en pumpkin into gnocchi.  Here you will find my recipe for gnocchi di zucca.Albero di cachi orsara di Puglia, Persimmon treeCachi (KAH•kee) are called persimmons in English.  There are 2 kinds, hard and soft and both delicious.  They are mostly eaten raw on their own or in salads.  Cachi La Cupa Orsara di PugliaI picked these ones from the tree in the upper photo.  It is in the olive grove that belonged to my Nonno.  Papà has 2 trees full of cachi in Vancouver.  We will pick them all in about a week and let them ripen in the garage.The incredibly gorgeous colour of cachi make them equally desirable as a painting subject.Cachi persimmon painting Casa Berti Lucca

Funghi (FOON·gee) e tartufi (tar·TOO·fee). Funghi porcini are available dried all year, but only in autunno can you find the fresh meaty fungus. I also love funghi cardoncelli and any other kind of funghi on pasta or in risotto.funghi porcini RomaTartufi are truffles- but not the chocolate covered kind!  Autunno is truffle foraging season. They are like underground funghi and are an expensive seasonal delicacy shaved onto pasta, eggs and risotto. I find too much tartufo gives food a moldy taste, so luckily you need a delicate hand and do not need to use much.  They are only fresh from October to December, otherwise they are frozen or preserved in oil.Cestino di fichi

Fichi (FEE·kee).  The second harvest of figs is ready in September/October, depending on the weather. Other fruits of the autumn harvest include bitter, spicy radicchio, mostly used in salads, but also cooked alla griglia and added to risotto and rapini which is used to make the Pugliese favourite orechiette con cime di rapa.  Trees are full of noce – walnuts and nocciole-hazelnuts.  Stay tuned for Corzetti with walnut and mushroom sauce recipe in an upcoming post about my new Corzetti stamp from Vernazza.  Insalata Purtuall, Orange and fennel saladMy favourite winter salad is Insalata Purtuall’ made with finocchio-fennel, oranges and black olives with a drizzle of olive oil and salt.  Read about my interesting history with this salad in the link.  Melograna-pomegranate adds extra flavour and colour.Grapes in the wine press Vino nel torchioUva (OO·vah).  La vendemmia, the grape harvest, usually happens in September and then it is vino making time! A glossary of viniculture terms in Italiano can be found in this post on vino. Each region has their own traditional dishes made during this time, including schiacciata con l’uva, a focaccia made with grapes.Schiacciata con l'uvaI made this schiacciata from a recipe on Luca’s blog. It was delicious, but I would recommend using a smaller, seedless grape! Vino cotto, which is technically actually mosto cotto is grape must boiled down to a sweet molasses type syrup.  Vino cotto, mosto cottoVino cotto is used for Christmas dolci, sweetening snow cones, and poured on cooked wheat berries with walnuts and pomegranate to make muscitaglia for All Saints’ Day November 1st.muscitagliaOlive (o•LEE•veh).  Late October and November is la raccolta delle olive-the olive harvest. This is an incredible experience, if you ever have a chance to participate. Everyone who lives in a rural area participates and it usually involves a picnic with many of the ingredients I have mentioned.  I wrote a post describing the entire olive harvesting/oil extraction process-La Raccolta delle Olive.Nothing compares to the flavour and aroma of olio novello, fresh pressed olive oil.  It is ‘liquid gold’.  Even if you do not have access to freshly pressed oil, you can make the Olive oil limoncello cake that I made at Casa Berti in Lucca after harvesting olives.Olive oil limoncello cakeNovember is also hunting season, which means pappardelle al cinghiale and pappardelle al lepere, pasta with a wild boar sauce and pasta with wild rabbit sauce. As the temperature drops, warm comfort foods increase.  Polenta is found mostly in Northern Italia, but in the cold months, it is made in homes all over the country.  Polenta, Casa Berti, LuccaOther autumn comfort foods include pancotto e patate, pasta e fagioli and risotto made with almost any of the ingredients mentioned in this post-even radicchio. Drool over my November street food-fire baked caciocavallo in its own little terracotta dish.  Mmmm!baked caciocavallo

‘Italy in the Autumn’ is the topic for the final Dolce Vita Bloggers linkup.  Since I already published a post about travelling to Italia in the autumn called Autunno in Italia, I wrote about the wonderful food available in autumn instead!Cachi Casa Berti Lucca

Grazie mille to Kelly, Jasmine and Kristy for hosting the Dolcevitabloggers linkup for the past 2 years.  It has been fun participating!  Check out the rest of the posts here.

Hopefully I made you hungry!  Buon appetite e buon viaggio, Cristina

Troia 1019-2019


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Rosone, Cattedrale di TroiaAccording to legend, Troia (TROH∙yah) was founded by the Trojan War hero Diomede (Diomedes) in the 10th century BC.  After the fall of Troy, he found out his wife was unfaithful.  Instead of going home to Argos, Diomede travelled around the Adriatic, settling in the Daunia area of Puglia.  Troia, also spelled Troja, was at the junction of the Via Traiana –the road from Benevento to Brindisi, and the road to Siponto (Sipontium).  The Romans called it Aecae.  In 1010, a medieval settlement was built on the ruins of the ancient city, and in 1017 a Byzantine fortress to protect against Saracen invaders.  Modern Troia was founded in 1019, making this year its millennia!!!  Auguri Troia!Troia Millenio 1019-2019

Troia was ruled by powerful bishops, and they built a magnificent cattedrale (cathedral), an exquisite example of Romanico Pugliese, a unique architectural mix of Pisan Romanesque, Arab and Byzantine inspired features.  It was an important connection between the Norman kingdoms of Southern Italia and the Pope. Completed in 1119, this architectural capolavoro or masterpiece is celebrating its 900th anniversary!Troia cattedrale Romanica Pugliese

The stunning rosone-rose window is made up of 11 thin columns, each with a delicate stone ‘screen’ finely carved with Islamic inspired geometric designs.  The 11 ‘petals’ or segments each have a different pattern.  They look like they are woven out of stone.  11 is an unusual number of sections for a rose window, or for anything, actually. There could be some interesting numerology related to this building.Cattedrale di Troia, Puglia 2011

The upper façade is elaborate, with the rosone and gargoyles. The arches around the window are decorated with an odd but fascinating assortment of primitive looking animal and human sculptures and are held up on either side by Pugliese lions. Side view, Troia Cathedral, PugliaTroia Cathedral bronze doors

The lower front is a 7 arch façade-the center one being the main entrance through bronze doors with the most magnificent dragon handles. They look straight out of Trono di Spada (Game of Thrones)! The doors were built in 1127 by Oderisio da Benevento. Troia cathedral dragon door handles and lion knockers The doors are decorated with reliefs and inscriptions.  There are 10 knockers; 8 lions and 2 wyverns, which are small 2 legged dragons.  On each side of the door are 3 blind arches topped with geometric carvings and a round window on the middle arch.  The arches on the side of the building are topped with geometric sun and moon patterns in green stone. The main doors are closed and entry is only through the side door, another bronze by Oderisio da Benevento.  The church is usually open during the day, and of course during Masses.Troia Cathedral bronze door lion door knockers

In contrast to the ornate exterior, the interior of the cattedrale is simple.  The design is a Latin cross plan with 3 aisles separated by 13 Corinthian columns, 2 rows of 6 and a 3rd row in the SW corner with only one column, as seen in the photo below.  These represent the 12 apostles and Christ. There is no ceiling, the beamed wood roof is exposed. The Cathedrals in the Romanico Pugliese style, including Troia’s, are on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  This is the step before becoming a heritage site!Interior of the Cathedral of Troia, with a view of the 13th column

The 1169 pulpit dates to 1169 has an interesting relief carved on one side. It is a dog biting the back of a lion, who is biting the neck of a lamb and is visible in the photo below.  The dog symbolizes God, who is faithful and vigilant, preventing poor judgement and heresy (the lion) from devouring the church (the lamb). Troia Cathedral, relief sculpture on pulpit

Il Museo del Tesoro della Cattedrale di Troia (the cathedral treasury) is worth a visit for rare 11th century parchments and other medieval sacred artifacts. There are only 32 illuminated Exultet codes (Easter scrolls) in the world, and 3 of them are here.  Also worth seeing is Il Capitello delle Quatre Razze (Column of the 4 Races).  This is a 13th Century column with 4 heads, one on each corner, depicting the 4 races of man known before 1492- European, African, Asian and Arab.  Admission is free, but it is only open Tuesday and Thursday 17:30-20 and Saturday 10-13.  Mondays are only open for school groups with appointments.  Call ahead, as they may open for groups 0881 97 00 20.Cattedrale di Troia, PugliaTroia is named for the ancient city, but unfortunately ‘troia’ is also Italian slang for ‘slut’.  My best guess is that the origin of this term is from Elena di Troia (Helen of Troy) who was an adultress.  Don’t let the name put you off though.  Troia is a charming town with a beautiful centro storico.  It is also way off the radar for most visitors to Puglia, so you will not find any crowds.Side street in Troia with Fiat Seicento (600) As an added bonus, you can find Nero di Troia vino everywhere!  Read more about this lovely vino in Vini di Puglia. My Zia lives in Troia, so I have been there a lot.  Here are some interesting Troia facts… #1-I had my confirmation at the Cattedrale di Troia when I was 15!  Interesting fact #2-Troia is the only municipality in Italia providing free public transportation! Via Regina Margherita doorway Troia, Puglia

Get off the bus from Foggia or park the car near La Villa Comunale and Bar Cluny.  Walk down Via Regina Margherita to explore the centro storico.  The Cattedrale is half way down this long, narrow street, which is lined with shops and interesting doorways.  Stop at the award-winning Pasticceria e Gelateria Artigianale Aquilino for a decadent treat. Visit the oldest church in Troia, the Byzantine San Basilio with ox heads around the altar.  It was originally a Greek Orthodox temple. The haunted Palazzo D’Avolos is now home to the Civic offices and Civic Museum. Wander into the narrow side streets and you may come across a Fiat 600 or some work by local artist Leon Marino.House in Troia, Puglia with Leon Marino angel mural

Troia has a population of  about 7000.  It is situated on a hill, 439 m above the Tavoliere plain, 22 km SW of Foggia, 15 km south of Lucera and 14 km east of Orsara di Puglia.  The surrounding landscape is a beautiful blanket of wheat fields, vineyards and olive groves- like the view from the abandoned Celle Sant’Antonio, just outside of Troia.  Celle Sant'Antonio, Troia Puglia

Ferrovie del Gargano buses arrive regularly from Foggia and Lucera. The ticket is €1.80.  If taking the train to Foggia, the bus station is conveniently next door. Troia has several B&B’s including Alba d’Oro, Stella and Svegliarsi nei Borghi.  There is even a car rental agency, Automottola, on the edge of town, towards Foggia.  For more information check out Troia’s website.Troia Cathedral and Via Regina MargheritaRead more about Troia and Diomede in Puglia-Mia Regione Preferita.  Have any of you readers who are not related to me been to Troia?

Ciao e buon viaggio, Cristina

In my Kitchen in Puglia, 2019


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August is always a busy month.  I am usually in Orsara di Puglia for at least half of it, and there is a lot of activity in my kitchen.  Here are just a few of the things my family and I were up to in our tiny but functional summer kitchen in Puglia.

Starting with the space itself, the whole casa is 40m² (about 450 square feet) including a bedroom and bathroom.  The room with the cucina is also the living room, guest room (aka my room) and art studio. The highlight of the room is the barrel vaulted stone ceiling. It is hard to get a photo of the whole thing, but this one gives you an idea what it looks like. Amazing, isn’t it?

August 5th is a feast day in Orsara.  It is la festa della Madonna della Neve which you can read about here.  My parents and I invited 7 family members over for pranzo, the 1pm meal.  Luckily we have a total of 10 chairs!

I had recently bought a spianatoia, although I only knew what is was called in dialetto.  It is a pasta rolling board with a lip on one end so it stays put on the table.  This one also has a handy carrying handle.  Cavatelli www.unpodipepe.caMamma and I decided to make orecchiette and cavatelli, even though both of us were out of practice. These are the most typical pasta shapes found in Puglia.Orecchiette www.unpodipepe.ca  Sugo con braciole They was served with sugo made with braciole which are thin cuts of meat rolled with prosciutto, parmigiano, parsley and garlic. Orecchiette con sugo

There are no fancy appliances in this kitchen.  I was given a bouquet of basilico and garlic from a friend’s garden and we made pesto ‘old school’ with her ancient and very heavy stone mortaio-mortar.Pesto made with old stone mortar/mortaio

Vino is plentiful in Puglia.  Nero di Troia is a nice, full-bodied local wine.  Read more about it in Vini di Puglia, the first of a 3 part blog series.  It is available at the grocery store in a 3L plastic container for less than €6!  It is very good!  We bring it home and Papà transfers it to 4 750ml glass bottles.  Sure, you can spend more money, but even the inexpensive vino is good.  I love to drink pesche in vino -peaches in wine with pranzo.  Yum! In summer red wine is often served chilled.

The cheese products in Puglia and Campania are drool-worthy!  Orsara has its own DOP cheese called cacioricotta, a goat cheese, but it never stays around long enough to be photographed!  Here is a lovely white on white trio of burrata, ricotta and mozzarella di bufala.Burrata, ricotta e mozzarella di bufala

Fiori di zucca are one of my favourite summer foods.  Luckily they are readily available here.  These ones were grown by a friend.  They are stuffed with caciocavallo and basilico, ready to be baked or grilled.  More recipe and harvesting tips can be found in the post Fiori di zucca.  I grow them in my garden in Vancouver as well, but they are not that plentiful. Fiori di zucca

Cucina povera, literally ‘food of the poor’, is what you will find in Puglia.  Simple foods made with fresh local ingredients.  My favourite comfort food, very typical of Orsara di Puglia is pancotto e patate.  It is made with stale bread, boiled potatoes, oil and garlic.  Beans and rucola or other greens can also be added.  I will have to write a post on how to make it!Pancotto, patate e rucolaI took the train down to Lecce and Nardò for a few days and found this cute ceramic gratta aglio, a garlic grater.  Of course the peperoncini attracted me! Gratta aglioI hope this post has made you either hungry and drooling or wishing you could visit Puglia yourself.  Maybe it has done both? Buon appetito e buon viaggio, CristinaThanks Sherry from Australia for hosting the monthly food blogging event, In My Kitchen (IMK). Read about other world kitchens by clicking the link to Sherry’s Pickings . Buon appetito, Cristina

Blub a Napoli


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Blub Il Volo di Dedalo e la caduta di Icaro fresco MANNA few weeks ago I took a daytrip to Napoli for sfogliatelle-but also to see the Blub exhibit at MANN (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli).  If you do not know about the street artist from Firenze, make sure to read my Blub post L’Arte sa Nuotare.  Blub (Bloob) takes famous works of art and gives them a new look, immersing them underwater, complete with blue background, snorkel masks and bollicine-bubbles.  Prints are organically glued to the metallic doors of gas and electrical panels, which provide ready-made frames.

To prepare for the exhibit, Napoli’s Centro Storico was ‘Blubified’ with 40 works plastered on sportelli-the doors of gas and electrical panels. A few are specific to Napoli, for example Totò and Re Carlo III Borbone (King Charles III).Blub, Re Carlo III Borbone a Napoli

In the exhibit, which only includes 5 new works, the project ‘L’Arte sa Nuotare’ (Art knows how to swim) is extended to Pompeii.  4 paintings on metal are inspired by affreschi (frescoes) from the ruins of Pompeii.  There is also the portrait of Carlo III and some sculptures have been adorned with masks and fins, as well as the tomb in the photo below.Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli Blub

The nymph is a detail from the fresco ‘Il Volo di Dedalo e la caduta di Icaro’(the flight of Dedalus and the fall of Icarus) from Villa Imperiale, Pompeii.  It is an acrylic painting on a metal door and I love how the rust has been incorporated. Detail from Il Volo di Dedalo e la caduta di Icaro Blub pompeii

Terentius Neo e la moglie (Terentius Neo and his wife) is a fresco from 55-79 AD found in 1868 in the house of baker Terentius Neo, which was also the bakery. The middle class couple is well-dressed, and he holds a scroll with seal, his wife a stylus and wax tablet to demonstrate that they are literate and cultured.  His wife is portrayed as an equal, in fact she seems to be standing in front of her husband.Blub Terentius Neo e la moglie

Here is the original fresco in MANN:Terentius Neo e la moglie Pompeii

Donna con tavolette cerate e stilo (Woman with wax tablets and pen) is a tondo, a round painting found in 1760 in the Insula Occidentalis house in Pompeii.  It depicts a wealthy woman with gold earrings and a gold hair net. She is holding a stylus and 4 wax tablets, to demonstrate learning and culture.  This  fresco is known as Sappho, although it is not a portrait of the poetess, in fact the stylus and wax tablets were more likely used for accounting than poetry. Blub again incorporates the rust on the metal door to add ‘age’ to the work.'Sappho' by Blub Napoli

The original fresco in MANN:Sappho MANN

My favourite Blub here is Maschera Teatrale di Donna (Woman’s theater mask) inspired by a fresco in Casa del braciale d’oro (House of the golden bracelet) in Pompeii. The work is under glass, so my photo has glare issues.  The tag says that this Blub work is an acrylic on metal door and is in a private collection in Hingham, Massachusetts, so I think that means Blub made a sale!

Maschera Teatrale subacqua, from L’Arte sa Nuotare Facebook page

Blub quote Napoli MANN exhibit

‘….water is my element.  Life is born from water, it is the hidden side of matter.  When you are immersed, time stops and becomes weightless, while thoughts flow freely in a suspended dimension…for this I propose personalities that have transmitted an example of greatness that survives still today, as if underwater, without time.’  Blub

Seeing all the affreschi from Pompeii in MANN really inspired me to get out my bucket of plaster and pigments.  Fresco painting is not a very ‘modern’ art form, but I have dabbled in it a bit and really love it.  Below is my detail of La Cappella Sistina. My next fresco painting might be one of Giotto’s angels. I’ll be looking for rusty metal doors to paint on! Let me know if you have any.Cappella Sistina Cristina Pepe

Blub hunting in the Centro Storico was not very productive.  We found a peek-a boo Blub….a Renaissance woman mostly covered by the propped open door of a store! Blub NapoliGiuseppe Verdi looks very distinguished among the graffiti.  I was disappointed to not find a Totò, but did find a Banksy and lots of other interesting street art-which I will leave for another post!Blub Verdi, Napoli

The exhibit in MANN ends in a few days.  I hope you enjoyed this virtual Blub tour and that all of you can some day view real life ‘Blubi’! Ciao, Cristina

*Photo credit-Both photos of Terentius Neo e la moglie and Blub’s Sappho taken by my cugino and Napoli travel partner Mark ‘Peperotti‘ Pepe



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Ferragosto refers to August 15th and up to a week before and after. August 15th is a national holiday, celebrating l’Assunzione di Maria-the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to Heaven at the end of her life on earth. If you know anyone named Maria Assunta, she was probably born on August 15th!

Most Italiani take their holidays at this time, heading to the mountains or seaside for cooler weather. At the very least, most are away for ‘il ponte di Ferragosto’ the long weekend around August 15th.

Ferragosto goes way back….the name comes from the Latin Feriae Augusti or holidays of the Emperor Octavius Augustus, started in 31 BC. There were already several other Roman festivals the same month, such as Consualia, celebrating the harvest. They were combined into a longer rest and feasting period after months of heavy labour in the fields. The celebration originally included horse races. Il Palio dell’Assunta in Siena every August 16th still keeps this tradition going. Taking a trip mid-August became popular in the 1920’s. The fascist government set up discounted trains for Ferragosto Aug 13-15 to give the less well off an opportunity to see other Italian cities. In the 1960’s it became common for factories and large businesses in the bigger cities such as Torino and Milano to shut down for 2 weeks in August, or sometimes even the entire month.

This gave workers from the south or small villages the opportunity to return home and spend time with family, and also to get away from the summer heat in the city. This tradition continues, although not as much as in previous years. It is common to see Chiuso per ferie signs for 2 weeks in August, but many small businesses now close in June or September instead.


I am often asked why small, independent businesses shut down for 2 weeks instead of having more staff and staying open. The main reason is that in Italia it is very expensive to have dipendenti-employees.  It often makes more financial sense for a local, family run place to simply close for a few weeks. Spending time with family is also valued more than in some cultures, so shutting down to be with family is an accepted, even encouraged practice.

2 weeks ago I was in Napoli and tried to go to the popular Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo. The lineup was ridiculously long, so I went somewhere else and had a delicious pizza Margherita. Last year on August 17th, the sign pictured above was on the door of the same place. They were closed for 3 weeks and their other location near the harbour was open.

Should you avoid going to Italia in August? Absolutely not! If that is when you are able to go-then do it! Just do not attempt to travel on August 15th, as public transportation will be greatly reduced and nearly everything will be closed. Museums and cultural sites will be open though. Roma, for example, will be empty of Romans for the week, so it will be less crowded with fewer cars on the road. It is a great time to visit air-conditioned museums and cool stone churches. There will be more than enough restaurants open that nobody will starve.

I usually go to Italia in August as this is the best time of year to go to my small mountain village. There are feste and concerts all month, my friends and relatives have time off and those who have moved away for work come back to visit.

What are you doing for Ferragosto?

Buon Ferragosto, Cristina

This post is written as part of the monthly blogging linkup Dolce Vita Bloggers  hosted by Kelly , Jasmine and Kristy.

Exploring le Cinque Terre


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Le Cinque Terre are 5 stunning clifftop villages on the Coast of Liguria, between La Spezia and Levanto.  In my last post I described the area, the villages, how to get there and around.  In this post, I write specifically about the experiences I had visiting the area 6 weeks ago with my nipotina* Isabella. Hiking between the 5 villages was our plan. They are connected by rail and also by a series of ancient donkey trails.  Along the sea is the ‘Sentiero Azzurro (blue trail) which is flat between Riomaggiore and Manarola, but otherwise gains quite a bit of elevation. The other series of trails is the Sentiero Rosso (red trail), higher up into and over the mountains and terraced vineyards.  These are longer and much more challenging, and include trails going to 5 Sanctuaries-one above each village.Manarola da Volastra

Rain and mudslides periodically damage the trails. It is important to check the conditions on the Cinque Terre website. 2 of the 4 sections of Sentiero Azzurro have been closed for a while and are apparently not scheduled to reopen until 2021!  We knew this before arriving, but did not know that the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza was also recently closed!Monterosso a mare, Sentiero Azzurro

At the Cinque Terre Info Point in La Spezia buying Cinque Terre cards, we were informed of the extra closure. This left us with only 1 accessible section, the Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare section-the most strenuous, of course. To make things worse, they would not sell us a 2 day Cinque Terre card. Perché? Because the next day was going to be one of those dreaded ‘sciopero dei treni’– train strike. Mannaggia!  These unexpected things happen when travelling, and no amount of planning ahead will prevent them-so we just adjusted our plans and made the best of it.

Vernazza Piazza Marconi, Cinque Terre LiguriaOur accomodation was in Vernazza, so we headed there first. Getting off the train at noon, my first thought was ‘mannaggia a te Rick Steeves!’ Via Roma, the main street of this beautiful but tiny village was so packed with people we barely had elbow room!  It was loud, crowded, and probably the worst time of day to be there.  I could hear the waiters approach everyone in english-a pet peeve of mine. This was mid-May-I can only imagine summer!

Vernazza, Cinque TerreAfter pushing our way down Via Roma to Piazza Marconi at the harbour, we checked in at the restaurant renting our room. The room was waaaaay up a series of 6 narrow staircases winding through tiny streets and alleys, just below Castello Doria.  I was glad I did not have a lot of luggage!  The view from the top was worth the climb!  The roof had a terrazza with chairs and a view of the sea. I could have sat there with a book, but since there were no trains the next day, it was time to do some exploring.

Corniglia la Lardarina, Cinque TerreTo get to Corniglia, we took the train and climbed the almost 400 steps up from the stazione.  Cute and quieter, Corniglia is the only village not on the sea. Corniglia, Cinque TerreI looked around for a Corzetti stamp with no luck, then we set off on the much longer and steeper Sentiero Rosso to Manarola via an inland town called Volastra. Manarola vista dal Sentiero RossoThere were viste mozzafiate-breathtaking views in every direction and the trail not crowded at all.  It took us right through ‘vertical farmland’ high above the sea. They are called terrazzamenti a fasce -strip terraced vineyards and olive groves. I thought these long metal poles and brackets were to give support against rock and mudslides, but the next day I found out what they were for.Terrazzamenti a fasce, terraced strips of farmland Volastra Cinque Terre

It took almost 3 hours to reach Manarola, a lovely town with a cute harbour and several viewpoints to walk to and watch the sunset. ManarolaWe decided not to go to Riomaggiore, as trains are less frequent in the evening and our visits to both towns would have been too rushed. Arriving by train back to Vernazza, the daytrippers were long gone and it was a beautiful evening for walking along the tiny harbour, taking photos and watching people try to fish.Vernazza di notte

The next morning, after colazione-breakfast on another terrazza overlooking the sea, we climbed up to Castello Doria, a few flights of stairs above our room. We had 360° views over Vernazza, the mountains and the sea.  Vernazza dal Castello DoriaThen we headed out of town on the Sentiero Azzurro to Monterosso a Mare before the onslaught of daytrippers stepped off the train. The trail started just above Vernazza. Vernazza, Cinque Terre, LiguriaIt was a steep uphill climb for awhile and then we were rewarded with birds’ eye views directly over Vernazza. Vernazza, Sentiero Azzurro, Cinque TerreThere were many more hikers on this trail than on the one yesterday, but it was not overly crowded. I did say ‘Buongiorno’ a lot!  The scenery was amazing and included walks through more terraced vineyards, olive and lemon groves.  Vernazza machinery for transporting grapesI even had a closer look at some of the mysterious looking machinery and contraptions for transporting grapes down the mountain that I had seen the day before.

Monterosso a Mare dal Sentiero AzzurroMonterosso was visible long before we reached it. The beach was long and sandy with a lungomare, a seaside walkway.  We spotted fritto misto da asporto-takeout mixed fried seafood and veggies sold in paper cones.  Despite the sciopero, a few local trains went by.  We thought about taking the train to Riomaggiore, but were concerned about getting stuck there without a train back. We returned to Vernazza and bought pesto focaccia and a paper cone of fritto misto to have on the terrazza.Vernazza, Cinque Terre

I was excited to finally find my stampo per Corzetti! Corzetti (Croxetti in Genovese) are traditional Ligurian pasta shaped like large coins with a design stamped on both sides.  The design holds the sauce better!  It was hand carved by a local fisherman and I can’t wait to try it.  One design is an ear of wheat and the other a ‘swirly thing’. I looked for one in every town, and ended up finding it right in Vernazza.  The shop owner and Isabella could not believe how excited I was to find it! Stay tuned for a corzetti pasta post in the future.

Later we walked part of the Vernazza to Corniglia trail, turning back at the point where it was closed. The views of Vernazza from the other side were amazing, but the weather was starting to change.   VernazzaThe Sentiero Rosso can get to Corniglia, via the Sanctuary of San Bernardino, but it takes 3.5 hours! In the evening I attended a Cinque Terre wine tasting  event hosted by Alessandro, a local sommelier on the terrazza.  I tasted 3 Cinque Terre whites while looking out at the sea.  Hiking with a 19 year old is exhausting, so this was a perfect way to end the day! Salute!Cinque Terre Wine Experience Vernazza

We loved our 2 days/nights in le Cinque Terre and could have used another day to go to Riomaggiore, and possibly take a boat.  In our case, it is better we did not stay an extra day though-as we left for Milano in a torrential downpour. In bad weather, there are no indoor activities in the Cinque Terre villages-except reading a book on a terrazza.  Travel to the area is best between April and September.  October and November are rainy, then it gets cold.

Vernazza porto, Cinque TerreIn case you think that in my photos it does not look crowded, this is because I could not move my elbows wide enough to take a photo during the peak times! Le Cinque Terre are no longer an undiscovered gem but are definitely still worth visiting.  If planning a visit, I would definitely recommend staying in one of the villages, for a calmer experience and to enjoy the mornings and evenings when the crowds of daytrippers have left for the day.  During the busy hours, go hiking and exploring.  The best way to see the area is on the trails! Many visitors stay in Portovenere or La Spezia for cheaper accomodation, but I do not think the experience is the same at all.  Day tours also arrive from Firenze and Milano, 2.5-3 hours away, leaving little time to see the area.  Be a daytripper only if you have no other option to ever visit the area.  Staying in one of the villages may not be advisable for those with mobility issues or a lot of luggage.Vernazza Stazione

Individual train tickets between La Spezia and Levanto are €4 and valid for 75 minutes. If you plan to hike and take the train, buy a Cinque Terre Card.  The combo card (trekking and treno) includes unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto, use of all the trails, and wifi that actually works! It costs €16 per day. For trekking only, it is €7.50 per day.  The card is available for 2 and 3 days- except in the case of un sciopero! There are also family and low season prices.  For more information, check here. Open toed shoes and smooth soles are not allowed on trails.Fritto misto, Vernazza Cinque Terre

Eat as much seafood as possible, and pesto, not necessarily together-although Fooderia Manarola (@fooderia_manarola on instagram) does have panino con polpo (octopus) e pesto!  My pesto is very good (recipe here) but the besto pesto is in Liguria! You can choose traditional trofie con pesto, lasagne con pesto and pesto focaccia.  Pesto heaven!  The paper cones of fritto misto -assorted seafood and veggies are delicious takeout food.Fritto misto, Monterosso a mare

Have you visited le Cinque Terre? What did you think?  Buon viaggio, Cristina

*Nipote or nipotina means both niece and granddaughter.  In this case, it means niece!Manarola, Cinque Terre