Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I can almost feel the breeze coming in from Greece...

Recently Antonello and I stumbled across a treasure of a cheese at Cityper, of all places. Cityper is the local SUPERmarket--this huge Walmart-sized grocery store that has everything from Parmigiano to hiking boots, nestled right in the middle of the local mall (also an anomaly here in Italy among these green hills and Romanesque churches). While I like Cityper for the fact that it has tortilla chips and salsa, I've never felt it had many Italian specialty items. I always felt it just had a bunch of pre-packaged stuff that you can get at low prices, but nothing really special. Alas, I was wrong.

Each month at Cityper there is a special sale for regional items--maybe one month it would be the region of Tuscany and things like Chianti and special Tuscan pastas and cheeses would go on sale, or another month Emilia-Romagna, and balsamic vinegar, Parma prosciutto, and Parmigiano would be among the specialties. Starting to get the idea? Well, this month the special region is Puglia--the "heel" of the boot--which stretches down the length of Italy and almost reaches toward Greece.

I love Puglia, having visited it last year and falling in love with its rugged landscape, beautiful architecture,and, of course, its food. Pugliese food is almost fantastical, dream-like stuff. Orecchiette, the pasta of choice for the Pugliese, are tiny plump saucers with just enough of a dip in them to hold a puddle of pasta sauce. The name orecchiette is cute enough in itself--"little ears." The Pugliese bread is the best I've found in Italy--crusty doughy salty stuff that can be used as a "scarpetta" (little shoe) to soak up pasta sauce, or even just for eating on its own.

But this cheese we found sort of put Puglia in a new light: food mecca. Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but this cheese is good. The first time we bought it for Antonello's mom and grandma, but Antonello basically ate the whole thing (with my help). The cheese, called Burrata, is almost mozzarella-like in appearance--a fresh white cheese wrapped in what seemed to be corn husks and dripping in water. But once you cut into the cheese, it is clear that it is almost two cheeses--one, an outer shell, is just a fresh white cheese (like mozzarella), but inside it is a very milky cheese that you could almost spread on bread. The cheese is actually made of cream, which I found interesting. The cheese we bought had been made in Puglia maybe three days earlier and shipped up to Cityper, so the freshness of it all was still quite evident. Anyway, we both loved the cheese. It was delicious and unlike anything I had ever had.

Yesterday we were at Cityper again, and Antonello searched all of the dairy aisles for the cheese without success. Finally we found it at the cheese counter (of course), and Antonello's face lit up. We bought a whole cheese, which ended up being about a pound in weight.

Last night we ate like the Pugliese--I made orecchiette al Pugno Chiuso, a recipe Corrie, Erin, and I discovered at a restaurant in nearby Civitanova, where one of the waiters is from Foggia in Puglia. Seeing that I hadn't made that much pasta, Antonello suggested we open the cheese and eat it. We (mostly him) ate the whole cheese. One pound of cheese--delicious cheese. And by the end, Antonello was soaking up the rest of the cheese with his bread--his "scarpetta"--not willing to let even a drop go to waste.

Yes, we have found a cheese we really like. (hard to believe here in Italy, huh?)


Monday, March 08, 2004

Festa delle Donne

Today, March 8th, marks the Festa Delle Donne--an Italian holiday which celebrates the importance of women. Although the sun is barely peeking through the clouds here, it seems like a bright day, with yellow flowering mimosa being toted around by everyone--women coming home from fruit markets, old men carrying boquets of it as they walk home, boyfriends buying it for girlfriends. Mimosa is the flower of choice for the festa, and the little dusty flower sprigs litter the streets today like confetti during Carnvale.

As I bought tomatoes earlier at the grocery, the women who worked there were handing out mimosa free for their customers, and a man in front of me asked something like "why don't we ever have a Festa dell' Uomo (Men's day)?"

She responded, laughing as she handed him a bouquet, "Why? Everyday is men's day!"

When I asked Antonello later what Festa delle Donne really celebrated though, he said it was actually an American occurrence that brought about the first celebration. In the early 1900s, a large number of women died in a factory fire in New York City. Since then marches have been held internationally, and eventually it has developed into a sort of "Women's Freedom Day."

Here, though, while no one is marching, it's enough to see people walking home with yellow flowers in their hands for friends or family, smiling brightly on a foggy March 8th and thinking of someone special.

And besides, I'm pretty happy about it. My house is filled with little yellow flowers, and tonight, Antonello is going to cook me dinner in honor of the festa!

Happy Festa Delle Donne to everyone!