La Raccolta delle Olive


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The olive tree has been essential to Mediterranean life for over 4,000 years. In addition to being a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet and an ancient trading commodity, olive oil has been used as a medication, soap, hair and skin moisturizer, terra cotta lamp fuel, furniture polish, and for cleaning and waterproofing leather.  Olive trees have a strong root system and can live for centuries. It takes up to 8 years before a tree produces its first olives. They grow well in lime and stony, poorly aerated soil, in areas with rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Olive trees have been considered sacred and symbolic. The olive branch has been a symbol of peace and the endurance of life since Genesis 8:11 the dove came back to him in the evening; and, behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf: so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth’. The shape and form of olive trees has always captivated me. I still have not mastered their tangled growth of trunks and leaves with a silvery green underside, but they are frequent subjects in my sketchbook. While in Italia last November, I encountered a lot of olives.  Seeing the trees heavy with ripe black and purple olives was new for me, as I had only ever seen them in their small green state! Every road near Orsara di Puglia was full of parked cars where families were harvesting their olives.  Unfortunately, I missed my family’s olive harvest by one day, but I was in Gugliano near Lucca during their harvest.  I used Casa Berti’s fresh olio nuovo to make Olive Oil Limoncello Cake.

La Raccolta delle olive-the olive harvest, is usually in late October/early November before the first frost. Nylon nets with a split down the middle are spread under trees and wrapped tightly around trunks to catch falling olives. On sloping hills, the edges of the nets are supported with sticks so olives do not go rolling away.Olive harvesting does not go well with mechanization. The more gently olives are picked, handled and stored, the better the quality of the oil they produce. Olives are harvested using a combination of the following methods:

Brucatura (broo·ca·TOO·rah) is picking olives by hand and putting them straight into un cestino-a basket, or a bucket.  This preserves the integrity of the olives and does not damage the tree or branches.  Ladders are used for the higher, hard to reach branches.  This method is slow, with a lower yield, but produces the best oil, with the least acidity.  Olive, Casa Berti

Pettinatura (pet·teen·ah·TOO·rah) is ‘combing’ olives off the branches with long handled combs/rakes and collecting them into buckets or nets.  Families producing olive oil for their own consumption harvest mainly by brucatura and pettinatura.

Bacchiatura (bahk·kee·ah·TOO·rah) is beating fruit off trees with long poles so they fall into the nets. A long-handled electric version for higher branches looks like 2 rakes facing each other that vibrate in opposite directions. If not done carefully, bacchiatura can cause bruising to the olives and damage to twigs and branches.

Raccattatura (rak·kat·tah·TOO·rah) is collecting ripe olives that fall spontaneously into nets. If not gathered right away, the olives can be rotting, with mold or bacteria, especially if it is damp or rainy.  Raccattatura produces oil with increased acidity

Scrollatura (scrol·lah·TOO·rah) A mechanical arm attached to a tractor wraps around the trunk and shakes the tree until all of the olives fall off into nets.  This method is efficient for large olive groves, but damaging to the tree and can produce inferior oil.  Luckily this method is not possible on terraced land or if there is not enough space between trees for a tractor.

Olives are stored briefly in crates to get warm and release oil more easily. Then they are taken to the frantoio, the olive mill.  Pressing within 24 hours of harvest produces the best quality oil with the lowest acidity.La raccolta delle olive

One evening while I was in Orsara di Puglia, I was lured by the divine smell of pressed olives. It was the frantoio, which of course is closed the rest of the year.  During la raccolta delle olive, it is open all the time and is a busy, social place. The frantoio is as cold as outside, since cold pressing prevents oxidation and preserves the nutrients, colour and flavour of olive oil.  I was curious to see the olive oil extraction process.

The olives are separated from branches, leaves and debris then weighed, rinsed in cold water and passed along a conveyor belt between rollers. Then they go into a vat with blades that mash or grind the olives into a paste- including the pits!  This used to be done with stone or granite wheels like a giant mortar and pestle. The olive paste is spread evenly over pressing discs/mats, which are stacked onto a press plate to evenly distribute the pressure.  The paste is not heated to extract oil, as cold pressing prevents oxidation.  Oil and water are separated and sediment removed using a centrifuge, then precious liquid gold, unfiltered olive oil pours out a spout draining into a steel basin.The colour of olive oil can range from grassy green to bright yellow gold, depending on the ripeness and type of olives and the level of chlorophyll in leaves that are included in the pressing. The fresh oil is stored in stainless steel vats until it is bottled.

The yield of oil per quintale (100kg/ 220lbs) of olives varies each year. It takes approximately 2,000 olives or 1 tree to produce 1L of olive oil! No wonder it is expensive!

The first press is virgin olive oil.  It can be designated as ‘extra virgin’ only if the % acidity is less than 0.8% and it has superior taste and aroma.  I will discuss this in a future post called Olio d’Oliva.

Photos featured in this post were taken at Frantoio Oleario di Nico Manna in Orsara di Puglia, my family’s olive grove in frazione La Cupa, Orsara di Puglia, and Casa Berti in Gugliano, Lucca.

Ciao from my amaca under the olive trees, Cristina

Tutti i Santi


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November 1st is Tutti i Santi-All Saints’ Day and is a national holiday in Italia.  It was created in the 9th century when the Pope superimposed a Christian feast day onto existing rituals, so this festa has been around for a very long time. Tonight is also an ancient festa celebrated in Orsara di Puglia called Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje which is dialetto Orsarese for ‘Falò e teste del Purgatorio’.  This translates to ‘Bonfires and heads from purgatory’ the ‘heads’ being zucche lanterne-carved pumpkin lanterns. For simplicity, it is also called ‘Tutti i Santi’ or ‘La Festa dei Morti’.

The night between November 1stand 2nd provides the opportunity to honour, reconnect and pay respect to the spirits of loved ones.  I wrote about the festa in a 2014 post Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje, but at that time I had not attended.  I had only heard about it from my parents, family and friends.  Last year I had the opportunity to attend. It was cold but the night was clear and an absolutely amazing, magical, spriritual experience-for me and at least 20,000 others. Orsaresi who live in other parts of Italia and Europe come home for the festa, and visitors come from all over Puglia. Since it is a holiday, many families are able to take an extra long weekend known as il Ponte dei morti.

It is believed that this night between Nov 1 and 2, the souls of the recently dead return among the living to visit their relatives and their former homes before moving on to Paradiso.  Bonfires are lit with wood and branches of ginestra (broom). The light of the fires and the crackling and sparks of the ginestra reaching for the sky attract the spirits, to reunite the living with those who continue to live only in our memories. Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje www.unpodipepe.caThe light inside ‘cocce priatorje’, pumpkin lanterns carved to look like heads or carved with crosses-light their way to find their former home.

My paesani are busy preparing for the festa for days.  Preparation involves gathering firewood and ginestra, preparing food for family and friends and picking hundreds of locally grown zucche which are carved and placed all over Orsara.  Restaurants and bars prepare for one of their busiest nights of the year.  There is even a laboratorio di intaglio delle zucche– a pumpkin carving workshop.  My street, balcony and front door were decorated with zucche.  In the evening zucche are exhibited and there is a contest for ‘la zucca più bella’.

When the campanile, the church bell tower, strikes 1900 hours, Orsara di Puglia ‘catches fire’.  Bonfires are simultaneously lit in every street and piazza and remain lit through the night.  The fires, illuminated zucche, music and people in the streets create a magical, enchanted atmosphere. There are 3 large municipal falò, and every quartiere – neighbourhood, and many families also light their own.

I made a point of getting off of the main Corso to visit some of the smaller personal falò. In honour of the dead, simple but symbolic seasonal foods are cooked on the open fires and also served as cibo di strada-street food.  These include patate -potatoes, cipolle-onions, salsicce-sausages, castagne-chestnuts and pane cotto-bread cooked with garlic, potatoes and greens.

Salsicce e pancetta nel fuoco

Muscitaglia (moo•shee•tah•lyah) is a traditional dish served November 1st likely dating back from the ancient Greeks and Byazantines. Muscitaglia is made up of the Greek and Latin words mosto (wine must) and talia (grain). The ingredients include boiled grain and vino cotto. Semi di melagrana e pezzi di noci -pomegranate seeds and walnut pieces are often added.  These ingredients are symbols of fertility and abundance, but also of honour and respect for the dead.

Il fuoco e le zucche di Antonella e Domenico

Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje has often been confused by visitors with the Anglosaxon Hallowe’en, but it is an entirely different event.  Besides the obvious fact that the date is different, dressing up in costume is not part of the custom and there is nothing scary or evil about it.  This is the reason for the hashtag #quinonèhalloween. There are more similarities with Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead.  This event is about being together in community to celebrate the bond between the living and those who we remember in our hearts.  It is also to remind us that our time on earth is precious. The following day, November 2nd is l’Anime dei Morti-All Soul’s Day, and it is customary to go to the cemetery to pay respects at the resting place of loved ones.

The 9 minute video below features 94 year old Z’Gaetan talking about the festa and its significance.

This lively 48 second video from 2016 featuring the music of Tarantula Garganica will make you all wish you were there tonight:

If you did not watch the video….watch it now!  I did not make it there this year, but am looking forward to my next trip to Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje!  Now I am off to my Mamma’s to have muscitaglia! Ciao, Cristina

Caffè con Caravaggio a Roma


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Caravaggio spent 14 years in Roma, and lucky for us, he left behind a lot of work. There are 23 capolavori-masterpieces by Caravaggio at 9 different sites in Roma, including 6 works that can be viewed for free! Si!  Free, gratis, senza pagamento. These 6 paintings are not in museums, they are still in the 3 churches they were originally painted for and have been hanging for over 400 years.  No entrance fee, no reservations or pre booking required, and usually no lineups!  The best thing about seeing artwork ‘in situ’-where it was created to be viewed- is that you can walk in and see the work where it was meant to go, just like someone in the 17th Century did.

It is possible to do a walking tour, visiting all 3 churches in a few hours.  As a bonus, along the way, this walking tour also makes 2 or 3 caffè stops.  If you missed my last post on the life of Caravaggio, read it here.

***Important Note before we start– the 3 churches on this wonderful passeggiata are primarily places of worship, so please be respectful.  Dress appropriately, speak quietly-if the artwork does not render you speechless, and avoid Mass times, especially on Sundays.  It may not be possible to visit during Mass.  There is no charge to visit the churches, but I always like to light a candle when I visit (€.50-€1).  You can also put €1 in a box to turn on the brighter lights if you need them to take a photo.

Andiamo!  Our passeggiata starts at Piazza della Rotonda, in front of the Pantheon.  It can also start at Piazza Navona, but I never miss the opportunity to visit the magnificent  Pantheon especially while there is still no entry fee.

Tazza d’Oro, Via degli Orfani 84

Facing away from the Pantheon, cross the street diagonally to the right and arrive at Tazza d’Oro, Via degli Orfani 84, known for their bitter roast caffè.  I seriously recommend ordering the granita di caffè!

Next, a short walk to the Baroque church of San Luigi dei Francesi, the national church of France in Roma.  San Luigi is open 0930-1245 and 1430-1830 daily, except Sunday the morning hours are 1130-1245.  Walk to the front of the church and on the left side is the Cappella Contarelli-Contarelli Chapel. Here you will find Caravaggio’s 3 paintings on the life of San Matteo-called the St Matthew Cycle in english. When 2 of the works were installed in 1600, they made Caravaggio an instant success. Roma had not seen painting with such intense realism and drama before.

The dark and mysterious Martyrdom of St Matthew is on one side of the altar.  I say mysterious because it is not clear who the murderer is.  Is it the slave offering his hand, the man fallen on the ground, or the shadowy figure lurking in the background with the face of Caravaggio?  Hmmm.  The Calling of St Matthew is on the other side, and originally a sculpture by another artist was to go above the altar in between them.  Since all other work seemed inferior between these 2 masterpieces, an altarpiece was commissioned from Caravaggio in 1602. This painting, San Matteo con l’angelo-St Matthew and the angel, is a ‘redo’.  The first version was rejected as it portrayed San Matteo as an old peasant with the angel moving his hand, as if he could not write.  The painting was destroyed in Berlin during WWII, and only black and white photos of it remain.

My favourite of the series is on the other side of the altar, The Calling of St Matthew.  This painting has the best ever use of shadow and light in a work of art.  A group of men are counting money in a dingy tavern room.  A brilliant beam of light coming from an unseen window symbolizes the light of God.  The shape of the shadow is in line with the finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew the tax collector.  He is the one who has a ‘huh, who me?’ look on his face while he points at himself.  The pointing finger may be a reference to that other Michelangelo, looking like the iconic finger of God in the Sistine Chapel Creation of Adam. I always leave San Luigi in an overwhelmed but contented state of ‘Wow’.

Leaving San Luigi we go left and walk ~200m turning left at the brown sign for Sant’Agostino.  This was the first Renaissance church in Roma at Piazza Sant’Agostino, close to Piazza Navona.  It is open 7:45-12 and 16:30-19:30.  Here you will also find works by Raphael, Guercino and Andrea Sansovino.  In the Cappella Cavalletti, the first chapel on the left, is Caravaggio’s magnificent Madonna dei Pellegrini-Madonna of the Pilgrims (1605), sometimes called the Madonna di Loreto.

The Madonna is usually portrayed dressed in fine fabrics, seated and surrounded by cherubs and clouds.  In this painting, she is a beautiful but ordinary woman answering the door of an ordinary house in bare feet and holding a rather large baby Gesù.  The kneeling pilgrims have dirty feet.  If the Madonna looks familiar, she is the same model from the Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1606) discussed in my Galleria Borghese post. She is thought to be Maddalena ‘Lena’ Antognetti, a well-known prostitute, and possibly Caravaggio’s lover at the time.  These details were all quite scandalous at the time.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of this painting.  My Roman friend recently came with me to Sant’Agostino and I found out this is his favourite painting.  To quote  his comment  …..‘Questo è il collo più sensuale nella storia dell’arte‘-‘This is the most sensuous neck in the history of art’!

Our next stop is Caffè Sant’Eustachio a few blocks away in Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82. Operating since 1938, their caffè is pre-zuccherato.  They whip in a spoonful of sugar while making the caffè and it always tastes perfect.  A sign states that if you do not want sugar added, let them know in advance!  My favourite beverage is un marrone-usually called un marrocchino everywhere else. Every bar in Italia makes un marrocchino differently, but it is always delicious. Sant’Eustachio ties with the Aeroporto Capodichino, Napoli for the best!

The last church on this Caravaggio passeggiata is a father walk.  There are 3 streets leading to Piazza del Popolo, but I usually get back onto Via del Corso, the long shopping street that leads straight there.

If you are not yet sufficiently caffeinated, turn right on Via dei Condotti, Roma’s most expensive shopping street and, before reaching Piazza di Spagna, stop at #86, Antico Caffè Greco. Roma’s oldest and Italia’s second oldest coffee bar, it has been around and frequented by literary types since 1760. Byron, Keats, Stendahl and Goethe are among those who have enjoyed caffè here.  In my photo below, Caffè Greco is on the left, approximately below the flag.  Caffè Greco is in danger of closing due to the exhorbitant rents on Via dei Condotti!

Piazza del Popolo can be reached by Via del Babuino, Via del Corso or Via di Ripetta. Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo 12, was designed by Bernini and is in the north-east corner of the piazza.  It is open 0930-1230 and 1630-1900, except for Saturday when it is open 0730-1900.  At the front, left side of the church is the Cappella Cerasi-Cerasi Chapel where we find the last 2 Caravaggio works on our passeggiata.  Both painted in 1601, on the left is The Crucifixion of St Peter and on the right The Conversion of St Paul on the way to Damascus.  The work above the altar between them is by Annibale Caracci.  Both paintings have dark backgrounds with awe-inspiring light and colour on the figures, which take up the whole canvas.  In the Crucifixion, you can feel the pull and weight of gravity even pushing out past the borders of the canvas.

The second painting captures the moment from the Acts of the Apostles when Saul-whose job was to persecute Christians, heard the voice of God and was blinded by the light, falling from his horse.  In case the name is confusing, he later slightly changed his name and became the apostle Paul.  This painting was often criticized for the ‘horse’s ass’ taking up so much of the picture plane.

This is the end of the Caffè con Caravaggio for free walking tour.  Scusi for the poor quality map!  I will replace it as soon as I figure out how to imbed one.If you want to see more Caravaggio works—no problem!  This passeggiata can be extended from both ends!  From Piazza del Popolo, Galleria Borghese room VIII has 6 Caravaggio works and is an uphill walk or short bus ride away.  Unfortunately it is not free, and reservations must be booked in advance. Read about the booking process here. Galleria Borghese can be visited either before or after this walk-my recommendation is before. In the photo below, Santa Maria del Popolo is to the left of the gate, under renovation.  Via del Corso is straight ahead, and past the gate is the walk to Galleria Borghese.

Piazza del Popolo

Walking back down Via del Corso, just before Piazza Venezia, stop at #305, Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Here you can see 2 Caravaggio works, including his only landscape painting Riposo durante la fuga in Egitto -Rest on the flight to Egypt (1597). Galleria Doria Pamphilj also has an entry fee of €12 but does not require a reservation. Galleria Borghese, followed by the free Caffè con Caravaggio tour, then the Galleria Pamphilj will take up most of a day and leave you in a wonderfully warm and fuzzy ‘Caravaggio coma’! I hope you all have the opportunity to take this passeggiata some day.

Ciao e buon viaggio, Cristina



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Caravaggio is one of the most brilliant and influential painters that ever lived. He pioneered chiaroscuro-dramatic use of light on a dark background and went for the ‘shock’ factor, really testing the boundaries for his time.  His life was as dramatic as his paintings and he was always getting into trouble with the authorities, drinking, gambling, brawling, sword fighting.  I have a few Caravaggio centered posts planned, so I will start with one about the Baroque bad-boy himself.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was born and studied in Milano. His family was from the town of Caravaggio.  He fled to Roma at the age of 21 after wounding an officer in a fight.  He found employment in the studio of Cavaliere D’Arpino, the Pope’s painter, and spent all his time painting ‘fiori e frutta’.  There is record of him being in hospital for 6 months early on in his time in Roma.  One of his earliest paintings is a self-portrait called ‘Bacchino Malato’ -Young Sick Bacchus.  His pale, yellowish complexion and bluish gray lips do not look healthy. He may have had malaria.  Caravaggio then went to work on his own and quickly developed a name as an artist, earning commissions from wealthy patrons.

Bacchino Malato (1593)

Caravaggio’s work was powerful and dramatic. Unlike other artists of the time, he worked directly from life onto the canvas without any working sketches.  Caravaggio worked quickly and produced a lot of work in his 14 years in Roma. Besides his use of light, dark and shadow, he also came up with dramatic compositions and intense realism…sometimes too intense.  He usually chose to paint the realism of the moment-the exact moment the action is happening. He showed life how it was, but his realism was often seen as graphic, vulgar and shocking.  He pushed boundaries and made people uncomfortable. Caravaggio used live models most of whom he found on the street, including 2 well-known prostitutes. He was frequently disputing with clients who refused to pay or insisted he redo a painting.

100,000 Lire Caravaggio banknote with his works ‘Buona Ventura’ on the front and ‘Canestra di frutta’ on the back

Caravaggio was always getting into trouble, but his name and wealthy clients protected him. In 1606, during a late night street brawl at a tennis court, he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni in a dispute over a prostitute.  Even having big-time patrons like Cardinal Borghese could not save him this time. He fled Rome with a death sentence and a price on his head.  He arrived in Napoli, where his influence and style defined painting in the city for the next few centuries.

In 1607 he went to Malta, hoping that the patronage of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John would help him receive a pardon from the Pope. He was welcomed and produces a lot of incredible art there.  Caravaggio was even inducted as a knight, but in 1608 seriously wounded another knight in a brawl and was imprisoned.  He escaped, was expelled as a ‘foul and rotten member’ and fled to Sicilia where he had a friend.  His behaviour grew increasingly bizarre.  He destroyed paintings at the slightest criticism and slept in his clothes fully armed. Caravaggio returned to Napoli after 9 months, to wait until he could return to Roma to receive a pardon.  In 1609 his dangerous lifestyle cought up to him.  There was an attempt on his life in a violent brawl and his face was disfigured.  There were even rumours of his death.

Davide con la testa di Golia (1610) Galleria Borghese

In 1610 he sent one of his last paintings Davide con la testa di Golia –David with the head of Goliath to his former patron, Cardinal Borghese, hoping he could convince his uncle the Pope to issue a pardon.  Caravaggio painted his own portrait as the gory severed head of Goliath, in a plea for mercy.  Soon after, he got on a boat heading north and ended up on the coast of southern Tuscany waiting for his pardon for the murder.  The pardon came too late.  He died in a tavern in Porto Ercole of a fever, infection from his wounds and heat exhaustion.  There were rumours he was poisoned, but Caravaggio likely also had lead poisoning from the lead in his paints. The homicidal genius was only 38 years old.

Poste Italiane 1960 stamp commemorating the 350th anniversary of the death of Caravaggio

In 2010, 400 years after his death, scientists think they may have cracked this ‘cold case’.  They are 85% sure that bones found in the cemetery in Porto Ercole belong to Caravaggio.  DNA evidence shows the age, height and date of death match, and they also did DNA testing of some long time residents of the town of Caravaggio and found there was DNA similarity.  The suspected bones also contained high enough levels of lead to drive someone mad.  More recent dental evidence shows that the main cause of death for the owner of these bones was a Staph infection, likely from the Napoli swordfight.  Sounds convincing to me!  Ciao, Cristina

*Image-Ottavio Leoni ‘Ritratto di Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’ ca 1621. Biblioteca Marucellaria, Firenze.  Wikimedia Commons

Your Favourite Recipe


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For the second time in 3 months, I wrote about the wrong topic for the monthly #dolcevitabloggers linkup!  I was frantically trying to finish a detailed review of my favourite book, only to find that other posts were on the topic of ‘favourite Italian recipe’. Mannaggia!  I had taken a screenshot of the list of topics, but a few of them were switched.

So…. my favourite recipe?  Hmmm.  That is almost like asking a mamma which one is her favourite child!  I love food and have too many faves to pick just one.  I think it is better if I write about your favourite recipe!  I had a look through the recipe category of my blog.  There are 14 recipe posts-half are desserts.  My favourite ingredients seem to be ricotta, limoncello, orange and olive oil! The most popular recipe post, by a massively huge margin, is Torta Caprese all’Arancia. I posted this recipe in honour of my 2015 Cannolo Award. 

Caprese (cah•PREH•seh) means ‘from Capri’ (CAP•ree) the beautiful island off the coast of Napoli.  I suppose caprese could also mean ‘goatlike’ since capra is goat?  We’ll stick with ‘from Capri’.

There are a few different stories about how Torta Caprese came to be.  The most likely is that it was invented by mistake in the 1920’s by a kitchen worker at an Austrian owned pensione on Capri.  He added mandorle tritate –ground almonds, instead of flour while trying to make something similar to an Austrian Sachertorte.  It was a big hit, and went on to be served at all of the hotels and tea rooms on Capri.

The basic recipe involves mixing melted butter and chocolate in a ‘bagno-maria’ with sugar and egg yolks, then adding whipped egg whites and ground almonds.  Liqueur, usually Strega, is added.  The cake has a hard thin shell and moist interior and the center tends to sink in a bit from the sides.

I recently tasted a yummy orange Torta Caprese, so I decided to try my own version.  After a bit of experimentation, and substituting Gran Marnier for Strega, I ended up with a very nice Torta Caprese all’ Arancia.  It is a 3 bowl recipe, so be prepared to wash them!

Read the rest of the original post Torta Caprese all’ Arancia to find the step-by-step recipe and find out what the Cannolo Award is all about.

This post is written as part of the monthly #dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine of Questa Dolce Vita, Kelly of Italian at Heart and Kristie of Mamma Prada, the 7th -14th of every month. Hopefully next time I will prepare the correct topic!  You will have to wait until November to read about my favourite Italian book!

Here is me posing on my first visit to Capri when I was 16. Unfortunately I didn’t know about Torta Caprese at the time.

Ciao, Cristina

In My Kitchen, September 2018


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Late August/early September is a busy time in my kitchen, and even busier in my parents’ garage.  The garage has a sink and propane burner, so it counts as a kitchen too!  Mid August, I am usually just getting home from 3-4 weeks in Italia and am right back to work the next day for a jet-lag infused reality check.

My garden is thirsty for water and full of erbacce-weeds that need to be pulled.  The fruits of the garden are ripe for picking. This was a good year for pomodori-4 different varieties.  My favourite are the ciliegine or cherry tomatoes.  I eat them like candy, and freeze some for making brodo-broth for the winter. My parents get back from Italia at the end of August, then we make passata di pomodoro to can for the year. We use whatever is ripe enough from our gardens, and purchase a lot more.  This is a major production involving the whole family, but is totally worth the effort.  I like to call it ‘Salsapalooza’.  Read more about our passata di pomodoro making in this post.

The origano-oregano was picked about a month ago and hung to dry in bundles.  It is ready to be crumbled and stored in jars.

My Mamma brings home pomodori secchi, sun-dried tomatoes from the mercato in Orsara di Puglia.  We put them in jars under oil with garlic, parsley and capers.  Yum!

In May, I planted basilico seeds in every available pot I could find and the crop was a good one, so I am making a lot of pesto this year.  I bought a stash of pine nuts while I was in Italia. My recipe for Pesto Genovese can be found here.

I am sad to pick the last of my fiori di zucca.  They are too delicate to keep or freeze.  I make them battered and fried, stuffed, battered and fried, or stuffed and baked.  Sometimes I use the broken bits to make frittelle or a frittata.  I am always shocked that so many people do not know these delicate morsels are edible!  To learn how to pick them and what to do with them, check out my post Fiori di zucca.

Some of my zucchine grew too big while I was away, so I have put those aside to make chocolate zucchini cake.  You would never know there is a lot of vegetable in it!  Sorry, it did not last long enough for a photo!

My raspberry bushes were producing a bowlful a day in June and July.  Now there are just 5-10 berries per day.  I have been hoarding them until I had just enough for one last batch of jam!

Rucola gets put in and on everything!  In my salad, on my pizza, on my thin cut sautéed beef. Some even goes into the freezer for making pasta patate e rucola, on of my favourite comfort foods in the winter.

That is about all from my kitchen (and my parents’ garage) this month.  What is happening in your cucina?  This post is part of the monthly ‘In my Kitchen’ linkup hosted by Sherry.  To read the other posts click this link to her blog Sherry’s Pickings

Ciao, Cristina

Visiting Galleria Borghese


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La Galleria Borghese was an opulent 17thCentury suburban home of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V.  It was also home to his amazing personal art collection.  In 1808, Prince Camillo Borghese was forced to sell the Roman sculpture and antiquities collection to his brother in law Napoleon, for below what it was worth. 340 or so pieces, including the Borghese Gladiator from Ephesus are now in the Borghese collection at the Musée du Louvre.  The Borghese estate in Roma was sold to the Italian government in 1902 and turned into a museum and urban park.

Even though I go to Roma every year, I had yet to visit la Galleria Borghese. It requires booking tickets in advance, which is something I really do not like doing.  Prebooking interferes with my spontaneity!  I tried to book online 2 and 3 years ago when I had a longer time in Roma, but kept getting forwarded to secondary resell sites charging double the price, which really annoyed me.  This year, I decided to try booking a few days before my departure for Roma.

The Galleria is not that easily accessible. It is at the far end of Villa Borghese, a large (200 acre) urban green space. Buses #92, 217, 360 and 919 from Stazione Termini stop at the Galleria. The other most direct route is to take the Metro A line (red) to Flaminio, just outside of Piazza del Popolo. Enter Villa Borghese by the unmistakeable big gates and walk about ½ hour to Galleria Borghese.  Keep right until the bike rentals then left.  It is an uphill walk.  An alternative ….to avoid being late and losing the reservation, is to take the Metro to Flaminio and then take bus #61, 160, 490, 491, or 495 to the Galleria, or even a taxi if you are running late.  It will not cost much, then walk back to Piazzale Flaminio, as it is downhill or take a bus down.  Do not follow the ‘Villa Borghese’ signs at the Spagna Metro station.  These lead to a long underground walk, and then up an escalator to a random forested area in Villa Borghese-the park, nowhere near the museum!

Piazza del Popolo

Tickets must to be reserved. The price of admission is €13 plus €2 for the reservation fee, and if booking online, another €2 for the online booking site-Ticket One.  If using the RomaPass for admission, a reservation is still required. Domenica al Museo, the first Sunday of every month, admission is free, but a reservation is required and the €2 fee.  This is the website for Galleria Borghese.  Reservations can be made by emailing or calling 39 06 32810 (dial 011 before this number if calling from North America).  I booked online, but had to register for an account with Ticket One, and enter my codice fiscale, which most visitors will not have. Ticket One charges an extra €2 booking fee, so my total cost was €17. I think booking by email is easier! Tours can also be booked with the reservation, but I prefer to wander on my own.  There are also independent tour groups that you can book, which include admission.

Bookings are Tuesday to Sunday for 2 hours, from 9-11am, 11-1pm, 3-5pm and 5-7pm.  The ticket office is in the lower floor-the central lower door in my photo- and you need to arrive 30 minutes before the reservation time or risk losing the spot.  This is not a convenient location to just show up and see if there are any last minute cancellations.  Security is strict and all bags, backpacks, helmets and selfie sticks must be checked before entering.  This includes purses.  Cameras are ok, and photos are allowed.  To rent the 90 minute audioguide (€5), make sure to pay before checking bags or carry pocket cash.

There are 360 reservations per 2 hour time slot. To spread everyone out over the 22 rooms, half of the ticketholders are directed to the Pinacoteca (picture gallery) upstairs and half to the main floor sculpture gallery.  It does not feel too crowded unless you happen to be in a room with more than one tour group.  I was worried about being rushed with a 2 hour limit, but I found it was enough time to see all of the works  It is not enough time to sit and sketch though. Do not forget to look up and admire the ornate painted ceilings and tromp l’oeil painting in every room. 

Cardinal Borghese considered himself an amateur architect and had an eye for art.  He was an early patron of Bernini and collected Caravaggio works.  He also had a knack for unscrupulously swooping in and getting a bargain.  For example, he acquired the Madonna dei Palafrenieri from Caravaggio in 1606 for a pittance when the patrons, the Papal grooms, immediately rejected it.

Madonna dei Palafrenieri. Photo Wikimedia

The painting is also known as Madonna and Child with Serpent or Madonna and Child with St Anne. Why did the Palafrenieri reject this incredible painting?  They did not like that their patron, St Anne, appeared as a passive old woman, nor did they like the Madonna’s ample cleavage, or the fact that Jesus was a naked older boy. There are 5 Caravaggio paintings in Galleria Borghese, all in one room! Some of you may know that I am a huge Caravaggio fan!

Gianlorenzo Bernini is also well represented in the Galleria Borghese with 4 early sculptures.  His Baroque masterpiece David capture the intense moment just before hurling the stone from his slingshot, while his body is twisting and he has a look of fierce determination on his face. 

Bernini’s realism is incredible, he has the ability to turn marble into flesh, as with Hades grip on Proserpina/Persephone’s back and thigh.

Bernini’s sculptures are so lifelike, he is known for attention to detail, such as sculpting the inside of his figures mouths and their tongues! This is really apparent on the figure of Daphne in the sculpture Apollo & Daphne seen below.  I love the way he portrays her fingers growing leaves and branches, roots growing from her toes, and her hair becoming leaves as she turns into a laurel tree.  Stay tuned for a post about this work.

There are countless other fabulous pieces in the Borghese collection, such as Paolina Bonaparte as Venus by Antonio Canova.  The upper floor has paintings by Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Antonello da Messina, to name just a few. I left the Galleria Borghese in a Caravaggio/Bernini art coma!  What did I do before going to have a rest?  Well, I stopped in at Santa Maria del Popolo after my walk down from Villa Borghese to see the 2 Caravaggio paintings there! Then I walked to Piazza Navona to meet a friend. We went to Sant’Agostino to see the Madonna dei Pellegrini then stopped to have a caffè freddo and had an hour long discussion about Caravaggio!  By that time, I was really in a stupor-a happy one, and I did go and have a much needed rest!

Have you been to the Galleria Borghese? What did you think?  Let me know in the comments.  Ciao, Cristina

Aria Pericolosa!


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C2550C42-73D9-4AC4-A015-1FD60DAF0E24‘Culture Shock’ is this month’s topic for the Dolce Vita Bloggers group. I was born in Italia, grew up in an Italian family in an italian/multicultural neighbourhood and have been travelling  to Italia my whole life.  There isn’t much culture shock going on for me to write about.

However……because in my ‘real job’, I work as a health care professional, there are a few malattie…illness related things that just drive me pazza! Repeat after me ….. illnesses are caused by viruses!  Le malattie sono causate dai virus (pronounced VEE•roos).

A unique category of illnesses exists exclusively in Italia, caused by wind, cold, sweat and wet hair! The thing they all have in common is sudden changes in temperature or extreme temperature fluctuations. Anyone who is from an Italian family will instantly relate to all of these.  My title Aria Pericolosa! means ‘dangerous air’.  We now know malaria is caused by mosquitoes, but in the past this was not known.  The word mal aria actually means ‘bad air’! These health beliefs are generally left over or adapted from times when we did not know the cause of disease.

54544A2F-D29B-4F76-82F6-EF0451394D02Colpo d’aria means literally a smack, strike or big hit of air.  An example of this is going from outside on a hot day into a shopping mall blasted with air conditioning.  Someone who has cold symptoms or a sore back, headache, earache or even indigestion might say ‘ho preso un colpo d’aria’.  Italians are somewhat distrustful of air conditioning, using it only when really necessary- in sharp contrast to the North American obsession with it. Severe back spasm is often called ‘colpo della strega’- Strike of the witch. 

Un colpo d’aria can also come from ‘la corrente’ which is an air current or a draft.  Walking or sitting in a corrente is thought to cause illness.  A draft caused by 2 open windows or doors directly opposite each other is considered bad luck in Feng Shui, because the good Chi goes in one window and out the other, however… winds and drafts do not carry disease! I’ve had many meals in a place as hot as a sauna because they refused to open both windows or doors at the same time-only one or the other! Mannaggia!

4D18D924-1F65-48E3-8AD5-55D051B16C11.jpegLa cervicale is another classic condition related to colpo d’aria.  This is a stiff neck cause by the neck being exposed to cold.  And you thought everyone wore scarves just to be fashionable!Calciodistrada2015

Running around sudato -with a sweaty body is also thought to cause illness. I suppose hot and sweaty are 2 temperature fluctuations! This is especially applicable to bambini, running around playing, and also wearing sweaty clothes. You may here è sudato!’ exclaimed on the playground by many an Italian Mamma.  Italian bambini are always provided with multiple changes of clothes for when they get sweaty, even at the beach! They wear canottiere, undershirts made of wool in winter and cotton in summer to absorb sudore.  These are sometimes referred to as a ‘maglietta della salute’/health shirts. Being sudato then sitting in a corrente—you are doomed to illness!

Let’s not forget capelli bagnati! Going outside with wet hair is thought to cause illness, even pneumonia….even death!  I always air dry my hair, as it takes too long to blowdry.  I compare this to drying the dishes.  Why dry the dishes when nature will dry them on their own?  If I leave the house with wet hair in Italia, I inevitably will get asked the obvious ‘ma c’hai i capelli bagnati?’ Being in a corrente while sweaty with wet hair and senza giacca -without a jacket….you might as well call the funeral home!

Swimming within 3 hours after eating is thought to cause cramps and this will cause you to drown. In Italia, the main meal is usually pranzo, around 1pm.  Yes, even on the beach it is often a full on meal and not just a panino.  This means the meal is heavier while at the beach, but it certainly doesn’t take 3 hours to digest the food.  I am ready for my next gelato by this time.  Noon until 3 pm is also the hottest time of the day, so it is not such a bad thing to be in the shade under an ombrellone at this time, it is the reasoning that drives me nuts.   One of my colleagues is from India, and she tells me her family says the same thing, so this one  m ay not beexclusive to italia. Perhaps it was originally related to eating questionable food before refrigeration was available? Still, I have yet to hear about someone drowning because they went swimming on a full stomach!

I could go on and on, but I need to go back out and enjoy the Pugliese sunshine.  All of these malattie might lead you to believe Italia is a uniquely immunocompromised country, but Italians are generally in very good health!  I try to explain that these ailments exist exclusively in Italia, but I give up! None of these are harmful, but they can get annoying, especially to a health care professional. Remember….. Le malattie sono causate dai virus!  You can still follow Nonna Mari’s advice and  ‘metti la giacca!’

This post is written as part of the monthly #dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine of Questa Dolce Vita, Kelly of Italian at Heart and Kristie of Mamma Prada the 7th -14th of every month.

Note-I will be Chiuso per Ferie without a computer, so may not be able to link this post to the other ‘Culture Shock’ posts until I get home. If the links do not work, check back later.

FYI ‘Aria pericolosa‘ can also refer to the lingering smell that keeps on giving after a smelly fart!

Ciao, Cristina….e metti la giacca!

Limoncello Ricotta Cookies


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Last week I had a bancarella at the Italian summer outdoor market. I like to bring dolci for friends who come to visit, or anyone who stops by to chat. Buy a card… get a cookie. It was an unusually hot day, and my espresso cookies would melt and make a mess all over the place, so I made refreshing, sweet and tangy limoncello ricotta cookies.  Limoncello and ricotta are 2 of my favourite ingredients.

When I was growing up, our Abruzzesi neighbours often made these soft cakey cookies-minus the limoncello. They used Anice (ah·Nee·cheh), a liqueur similar to Sambuca, and topped them with multi-coloured sprinkles.  The ricotta makes them soft, moist and chewy. If fresh is not available***, make your own ricotta!

Limoncello Ricotta Cookies:

350g flour (2½ cups)

5 g salt (1 tsp)

8g Pane degli Angeli (½ bustina/envelope, 2 teaspoons) *

100 g olive oil (½ cup) **

400 g sugar (2 cups)

2 eggs

450 g fresh ricotta (1 lb)

30g limoncello (30 ml, 2 tablespoons)

15 g freshly squeezed lemon juice (15 ml, 1 tablespoon)

Grated peel of 1 lemon

Glaze: same as for Casa Berti Olive Oil Limoncello Cake

200 g (1½ cups) powdered sugar/icing sugar

30g limoncello (30ml, 2 tablespoons)

15g freshly squeezed lemon juice (15 ml, 1 tablespoon)

Grated peel of 1 organic lemon

Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F)

Mix the 3 dry ingredients together. In another bowl, mix sugar and grated lemon peel together with the back of a spoon until the sugar becomes fragrant.  Add eggs, 1 at a time.  Add oil, then ricotta and limoncello. Stir in dry ingredients.

The dough is quite sticky. Use 2 tablespoons or a small cookie scoop to measure the dough onto a cookie sheet.  The dough may be easier to work with if it is left in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.  Bake for 15 minutes, being careful not to burn the edges.  Let cool.

To make glaze, mix the all ingredients except lemon peel in a small bowl until smooth.  If it is too thick and sticky, add more limoncello or lemon juice.  Add lemon peel last.  Use a teaspoon to spread glaze onto each cookie.  Leave glaze to harden and set for 1-2 hours.

Makes 40-60 cookies, depending on the size.  Store in a covered container.

* If Pane degli Angeli is not available, substitute 2 tsp baking powder and a tiny splash of vanilla extract

**if you prefer to use 125g unsalted butter (½ cup), mix the sugar and butter together first with a mixer, then add eggs one at a time, followed by the other ingredients

  ***Cottage cheese is NOT an appropriate substitute for ricotta!

Friends and customers often tell me I should be selling the cookies. I am not sure how to take that.  Are they trying to tell me my baking is more appealing than my artwork?  Hmmmm, I had better not overthink this one!

If you love limoncello and ricotta as much as I do, check out some of my other posts: Limoncello Cheesecake, Casa Berti Olive Oil Limoncello Cake, Ricotta fatta in casa, Tortelloni di Ricotta.

Read more about the mercato here.

Buon appetito, Cristina

The Sicilian Wife~Book Review


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I downloaded The Sicilian Wife onto my ipad before a long flight.  I was actually looking for another book by the same author, Finding Rosa.  It was not available as a ebook at the time, so I purchased The Sicilian Wife instead. Once I started reading, I could not put it down.  I have not read many crime thrillers.  This one was very ‘film noir-ish’.  In fact, I kept visualizing every scene in grainy black and white on a big screen.  I hope someone is working on a screenplay!

The book features 2 strong female characters: Marisa De Luca is the decorated commissario in a small Sicilian village, dealing with local organized crime, a station full of chauvinists and investigating a mysterious death, and Fulvia Arcuri, the reluctant mafia princess, constantly running from her troubled upbringing.  Fulvia immigrates to Canada and starts a new life free from the reach of her family…or so she thinks.

The Sicilian Wife goes back and forth between different timelines, as well as a double setting, Sicily and Edmonton, Alberta. These are not hard to follow, despite twists and turns in the plot.  Sicilian folktales and proverbs, and contemporary Italian history add to the themes of escape and migration.  Just when you think you know what is going on ….. I really can not say any more without giving away too much.  Just read it, especially if you are Italocanadese!

I give it 5 peperoncini out of 5 🌶🌶🌶🌶🌶!

Note:  The author of The Sicilian Wife, Caterina Edwards, is a fellow member of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW), although we have not met. Hopefully we will meet at a future conference!  I purchased the ebook and the opinions written here are my own.

Buona lettura, Cristina