■ Nov 12, 11:14 AM by James Martin
Today we are preparing to leave the Lunigiana for our other home in California. We took our last Tuscan pizza napoletana out onto the terrace so we could overlook Enrico’s sorry orto or vegetable garden. It’s a soggy mess. The orto I mean. We were glad when he planted plenty of leeks, but now they’ve rotted from the constant, heavy rains.
But with death comes resurrection—of a sort. The year’s good news came when the bridge over the river in nearby Serricciolo, the Ponte di Serriciolo was finally replaced by a brand new bridge—with walkways!
The bridge was open a couple of months ago. The walkways? Well, that took a couple of months. It was hard to figure. They were out there every day, puttering around with big equipment. But the walkways were always closed.
The thing is, the walkways go nowhere. Yes, you can walk across the bridge but on the other side the road narrows. A reasonably sane person can go no further. I define a sane person as one who would think it crazy to share a lane with Italian drivers. I think I might not be alone in this. You see, on the other side, the road continues and the shoulder disappears. Completely.
But still, nice guesture. And there is something to see. Yes, it’s that statue on the left. The base of the statue is a hunk of the old bridge. Thanks to you, Madre della Lunigiana, we are now protected. It’s all in its own little platform on the far side of the bridge. It’s as if they said, “geez, there’s no reason for a walkway, but it’s in the contract. We’ll get the priest to bless a statue and we’ll put it here so you have to use the walkway to get to it.”
Pretty smart, don’t you think?
And those clouds hugging the far mountains! Purty, no? Gonna miss it.
Italy Travel Toolbox
- All About Italy Rail Passes
- How to Ride Italian Trains (video)
- Italy Maps
- Italy Cities Climate and Weather
- Italy Autostrada Map
- Cinque Terre Hiking Map
■ Nov 3, 08:29 AM by James Martin
We were learning art with Irma Fiorentini. It happened that we were learning it at the right time. On Friday Irma’s main squeeze Roberto would be coming from the big city as he usually does on weekends. He would cook us a meal. That’s Roberto over there on the left, squeezing the passatelli into the brodo. Note that he is smiling.
To say that Roberto had a passion for cooking would be a severe understatement. Roberto cooked with a head-on giddiness you might see in a child upon receiving the best Christmas present there ever was. He was in his element—and his element made him very happy indeed. And if you don’t believe happiness rubs off on nearby onlookers clinging to a wine glass in one hand and a cell phone camera in the other you’re sadly mistaken.
Food is unlikely to be cooked well without a cook’s joy to sauce it. Drudge makes sludge.
So there is Roberto, squeezing little breadcrumb and cheese earthworms out of his ancient press into broth while we sip and egg him on. Passatelli in brodo, another peasant dish of the Emilia Romagna. Simple, tasty, life affirming. Bread crumbs, parmigiano, eggs, nutmeg, lemon zest. Squeeze. Done.
Like a good story, the meal had structure. Courses, from the Passatelli in Brodo to the salmon with three sauces, to the dessert flowed and cavorted with Robert’s wine selections. And the story, as so many of them do, had a twist, it looped back upon itself at the exciting conclusion, when Roberto constructed the Mont Blanc, or, um, Monte Bianco.
Like the first course, brown earthworms of spiced chocolate and chestnut made up the flanks, and whipped cream capped the whole deal.
As in real life, as with the storms that brought the snow. a bit of unsettled weather accompanied the topping. The mixer sent puffy pellets of half-whipped cream through the air, interrupted only by Roberto’s sweater.
It was not a disaster. It was a cause for more laughter, a beautiful celebration of the food that had given joy to poor people for hundreds of years before ending up on our plates—and we found it when we weren’t expecting it, a juicy bonus.
It’s not just about the raw materials, in art as it is in cooking. Remember that if you remember nothing else.
■ Nov 1, 09:06 AM by James Martin
It smelled good at the Ristorante Venelia today. It was a holiday, All Saints day, and everyone was out and about with their children and most were having the tagliolini al tartufo. You see it in the picture. We smelled, we ordered without even hearing the waitress recite the menu.
Two plates of it came steaming to the table. I held back and took the picture you see above. Beautiful, eh? Then we stuck our heads in the steam, breathed deeply, and dug in.
At which time the diner at the next table over leaned toward us. He had a serious look on his face. He spoke to us in English, “They’re not real truffles, you know.”
Our forks, which had been twisting away at the ravishing tagliolini like little whirling dervishes, screeched to a halt. So, someone took the time to paint all those intricate lines on a radish or something? Were we going to die?
“These we call scorzone. Not the real truffle you get in Piemonte, the white one. This smells very, very good, but I don’t like it in the mouth.”
So we relaxed. I slid a sliver of truffle on to my fork. Yes, the taste—a little like you’d imagine cardboard to taste if it were infused with some truffle steam and you were in the habit of eating wood pulp.
“The owner found these this morning, he told me.”
The taste wasn’t sexy like a winter white truffle. Not even close. But it was a truffle, or at least people call it one, a summer truffle. Tuber Aestivum Vitt is the scientific name. It’s not the same as a summer black truffle, which is Tuber Melanosporum Vitt—but you probably know it as the Perigord truffle. It’s quite common in Tuscany, and it’s sometimes called “The Tuscany Truffle” because it grows well here.
And there was still that alluring smell…
So that was our primo. They didn’t charge an arm and a leg for it—and it was clearly specified on the menu exactly the type of truffle that was used, so nobody was trying to rip anyone off. For 12 euro the plate was quite an enjoyable one.
So look at the picture again. If you were searching out the winter white truffle, the best kind of truffle, you wouldn’t see the black on the outside. If it were the second-best black perigord truffle, it would be less yellow in the inside. This is the kind of truffle you get when you purchase those bottles of cheap, preserved truffles.
But let’s get back to the rest of the meal. Over on the right is what I ordered.
Piccione. Pigeon, called squab for the squeamish, stuffed with all manner of funghi or forest mushrooms. Oversalted, but a fantastic dish in spite of it. I ate fried squash flowers with it.
We are full. There is unlikely to be a late meal on this all saints day.
Popular These Days
■ Oct 22, 07:37 AM by James Martin
Piadina is a historic flatbread famous in Emilia Romangna, especially in the eastern part along the Adriatic, were it’s most revered and they call it Piadina Romagnola. You wrap it around all manner of foods. It beats a generic Italian panino hands down. Like panino, a piadina is both the name for the bread and for the finished
sandwich like thing product.
Sure, the middle east has pita. But Piadina Romagnola isn’t the only flatbread you’ll find along your travels in the boot. As I sit here in my waterlogged Lunigiana, I begin to think of the long arc of flatbreads that start here in the towns of Aulla and Podenzana with panigacci, an unleavened flatbread cooked on a hot terra cotta form, proceeds through the rest of northern Tuscany where it picks up leavening and becomes focaccette, then travels to the Adriatic coast where animal fat (like lard) or, in modern times, olive oil gets incorporated and it becomes piadina. In each case you can munch on them alone or stuffed with all manner of meats, cheeses and other spreadable things.
The search for fab Piadina in Rimini starts when you pass through the Arch of Augustus marking the terminus of the Via Flaminia, as seen above. You’re soon walking through the ancient Roman Forum, which really lies a meter and a half below your feet. You keep pressing forward until you pass over the equally ancient Tiberius Bridge, where you find yourself in the historic neighborhood of Borgo San Giuliano. Fishermen lived here once, proud and poor since the medieval. When a house changed hands to another, it was recorded in a plaque. Federico Fellini loved the place, and murals are painted on the walls that evoke his cinematic work, like the one to the right.
If you are lucky you will land at a place you will think too modern to seriously host a beloved historic food. And the name! Well, I will give it to you straight: NudeCrud.
Would you eat there? If the answer is no, then I feel for you, for you have erred in a sinful way.
If you can’t find a Piadina Romagnola stuffed with something you like here you’re a seriously finicky eater. I mean, there’s even one made with squid ink. You can get the house version of a hamburger, Rimini style. It’s all good, exotic or no.
You see, the ingredients are all local. I like it when you sit down and ask the waiter where they get the lamb and he says something like, “Giuseppe from the neighborhood has a slice of land on the east side of town and has a small flock that gets the best treatment in the world and we’ve been getting his lamb for 37 years…”
So you know you’re not getting a hamburger full of disguised tendons washed in ammonia. Look here:
Farine biologiche tradizionali, al farro e al Kamut del Mulino ad acqua Ronci, l’unico con macine in pietra e grani dell’alto Montefeltro
That means they use flour that’s organic and traditional, made from farro and kamut, the farro is milled in the mountains of Montefeltro by a traditional stone mill.
They call it chilometro zero a chilometro vero, true and local food. And we’re talking about what Americans call a “wrap”. We don’t expect organic, because it’s just a sandwich; we expect too little.
So you have found it, you have discovered Roman Rimini, and you’ve done it all in an evening. Have a beer (they have lots of artisan beers) or a glass of wine. And several piadine.
The fact that they are mighty tasty is in what you don’t see on this page. A picture. I was too busy eating.
Via Tiberio, 27/29 – 47921 Rimini (Rn)
Tel. +39 0541/29009
Also see: Rimini Map and Guide
I dedicate this food post to the kindest, most knowledgeable food and wine expert I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, a man who wrote of the simple pleasures of things like the Tuscan flatbreads with style and an eye to detail I can only hope to emulate: Kyle Phillips, who recently succumbed to cancer. I will miss him.
■ Oct 13, 11:56 PM by James Martin
“Make my food look pretty,” she said, excitedly grasping her pigtails and flinging them behind her back, her freckled cheeks pinking slightly.
“Close your eyes.”
“Mmmm. Arty baby gonna make surprise of my chops?”
“No. I mean close your eyes and eat.”
New research out of BYU finds that looking at too many pictures of food can actually make it less enjoyable to eat.
Let’s face it: the web is clogged with food that does not look like food. Food porn they call it. Underage veal lies pretty in garter belts of truffled cracklings, while mamma bangs pots in the kitchen.
You see, lazy researchers are recycling the old, tired, and generally untrue porn research and inserting food where the pulsing sex organs used to be. “Porn desensitizes you.” You get big bucks for this sorta thing.
So let me cure you.
Welcome to your 1 step anti food porn program, a free feature of Wandering Italy
Now close your eyes for real. Open them when I say open.
Think of long simmered pork. On the bone. Salty, but then think of the essence of sweet chestnuts. Together, a marriage made in heaven. A balance, salty/sweet. Try to keep from swooning.
Now open. Look:
Ok, before you retch, I didn’t say this was gonna be easy.
What you’re looking at, if your head isn’t face down in a toilet bowl, is Polenta di Neccio and Ossi di Maiale. You can say Polenta con ossi and the good folks of the Garfagnana section of Tuscany will understand. Polenta with bones.
What you have is a polenta made from chestnut flower, plopped unceremoniously beside a heaping helping of long-simmered pork bones. True cucina povera, except for the heaping helping part.
And it’s one of the great things in the world to eat devised by people who valued flavor and nutrition over pretty.
Let me tell you about the bones.
When my neighbor Armando slaughters his pig in December, he uses a great deal of it to make various cured meats like his prize winning salami. Then the butcher cuts the prime cuts for the family to eat right away. Then the bones and feet go in a big barrel with lots of salt and are stored under the house with the vino he’s made. When they want something for a winter meal, they just go under the house and get out a foot or two and some bones, wash off the salt, and boil them up until you can suck the meat off the bone.
Ok, the whole dish is very primal. Under the house dirty. Ugly.
A bit like the best sex, no?
But not to worry, the chestnut trees in Tuscany are dying. Chestnut blight. Endothia parasitica, first seen in 1938, is ravaging the countryside.
And pork is going industrial. The odd bits will go in your wieners.
So, don’t worry, there will be pretty food that won’t challenge your sensibilities. It will be around for a long time. You will be happy. I will be sad. That’s the way the world spins (if you let it).
■ Oct 11, 02:20 AM by James Martin
The cornetto is the be all and end all of Italian breakfast. It is (usually) just a bready fuel. For all their concern about food, Italians seem to view the cornetto like a pill you take to get started in the morning, washed down with a caffe or cappuccino, a habit from which Italians can’t seem to escape.
Cornetti often come in sealed plastic bags. It bothers no one that they must grit their teeth and use what forces are left from the night before to attempt to rip open the industrial seal in order to remove their morning pill, either.
You can get cornetti filled with stuff. It’s better, because frankly, you seldom find a flaky, buttery, “wow, this is the way to start a morning!” cornetto any more. If you were in France, you’d be looking for a croissant, of course. And these days you’d have the same problem. The world has industries whose whole reason for being is to make the food you used to eat in the good old days a mere (and quite pleasant) memory. Subtraction of flavor is more than a cottage industry these days, it’s a corporate way of life.
So we’re in Rome. Our day has started with a drizzle. We headed toward our beloved Testaccio neighborhood, where we were joining a Rome food tour called Taste of Testaccio Food Tour from a group called Eating Italy. At the moment we met our guide, Luna, the skies opened and the rain buzzsawed down at us like it meant to rip our clothing off. Luna provided us with colorful body condoms that made photography of the group into a rather colorful and somewhat ghostly pursuit.
But back to Cornetti. You take them for granted. They don’t break your teeth. Then you go to Luna’s secret place. Here we are:
You see two things on that tray. One of them is a gaggle of the best cornetti you’ll ever eat—trust me on this—unless you make them yourself and you are a pastry chef not afraid to use something tastefully fatty in your pastry.
Behind them is a little tiramisu in chocolate cups. That was cute and the women loved them.
But the cornetti were the triumph. Or maybe it’s a guy thing.
If you’re in Rome, head to Testaccio to eat. It’s been where Roman food starts for thousands of years. After all, the neighborhood is named after a Roman amphora dump (think wine and olive oil coming in from everywhere). If you want to eat and walk for four hours like we did, take a Eating Italy Food Tour.
Otherwise, just come to the Pasticerria Barberini for a cornetto and coffee. The address is Via Marmorata 41. Via Marmorata is a big street. The famous Volpetti food emporium is just a few steps away. Knock yourself out, foodie-wise.
The Pasticceria Barberini has been around for a long time, probably about as long as some of those industrial cornetti have spent in their plastic bags.
Perish that evil thought, chow down on the best.
Eating Italy Food Tours
See Martha’s Review: Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome
■ Oct 10, 02:25 AM by James Martin
We had just settled into the Ristorante Cipriani in the borgo surrounding the castle at Ostia Antica for Sunday lunch, a popular endeavor on the Lord’s day. We’d booked the last table.
At the next table was a family. Doting parents and the young male, the obvious apple of their collective eye. He had what appeared to be an iPhone in his hands which he made use of frequently in an effort to ignore the older folks. Apple indeed.
They ordered. Pasta for the kid. What did he want on it? Ragu? Butter?
“Nulla.” Nothing. Maybe a little cheese? No, he’d gut it out. There was a calculated hardness in his face. He gripped the phone in both hands tightly.
Then it began. His grasp of the phone was not unlike Nuvolari at the wheel of the old Alfa P3, his eyes fixed intently at a point just beyond the starter’s flag. Shortly thereafter the kid’s eyes light up like he’d seen his first breasts.
The flag has been dropped.
So there he sits in the cat seat, this nameless child flanked by his doting parents who eye him with those google-eyed looks parents give their children even when they are being obnoxious. He’s rounded the first bend, the car gives a little squiggle at the end and he adjusts his iCar smartly as he accelerates out of the sweeping curve, eyes big, hanging on as the car gains speed down the little faux straight, then a right, a quick left, a whip of the phone/wheel, a little gasp.
Meanwhile, the pasta arrives. Doting dad pulls the plate to his gut, grabs a fork and starts twirling.
Through the big left bend, then the real straight. Thank God, a time to breath. Then, at this very opportune moment, as the driver’s heart rate tries to return to normal, the forkful of pasta rockets toward his mouth. He sucks it in. It’s a messy thing.
Then, from the left side, Mom is at the ready. A quick swipe of the napkin she’s been holding makes his mouth clean again, a maneuver so quick it needs some kind of instant replay.
He’s not had to look away from the screen. A pit stop like no other. These Italians have a flare for it.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it. And the tonnarelli was good, too.
■ Sep 15, 07:02 AM by James Martin
Anatomy of a Lunigiana Feast
A Sagra is a celebration of food. It’s not an ancient thing, it’s a relatively modern word and concept. These feasts happen most every weekend. You learn to read the sagra posters tacked everywhere and decide upon which to attend.
When you move to Italy, you come to understand that some sagre are more important than others in your area. We’ve learned that some of our neighbor’s more lofty accolades go to the Sagra delle focaccette di Vaccareccia.
Vaccareccia is a tiny village in the Lunigiana whose whole reason for being seems to be this once-a-year festival. 2013 was no exception, despite the drizzle.
Everyone is here. The neighbor without eggs because her chickens were eaten by a wolf was there. The almost toothless woman who wins prizes at Karaoke competitions was there, as was her almost blind husband, who insists on driving the car, albeit so slowly hardly anyone notices unless they have the misfortune of being behind him.
How They Make Focaccette
It’s simple. You build a fire to warm up the teste, little terracotta plates. They get quite warm. Then you get one of those those nifty stacking devices you see in the picture below and put down the first testa. You put a ball of dough in the testa, then cover it with another testa, more dough, etc., etc.
When it’s up to the top, you squish it all down, let it cook for a short period of time, then disassemble the whole deal, throwing the resulting focaccette in a basket to be sliced open and stuffed with pancetta, stracchino, Gorgonzola, or sausage. 2 euros are charged for each at the festival.
You’d think with all the food worship that seems to go on around here, the “kitchen” for making these things would be a palace of stainless steel that would be the envy of Mario Batalli or something, but no, what we have is a Focaccette Shack. There are no cats on the hot tin roof, but then again, it was raining.
I’m sorry you missed it. Man, was it good.