Friday, February 02, 2007

Parma windows

Walking home from the bus yesterday, I was thinking about Jackie and her family and looking forward to seeing her this weekend. When I looked up this cheery set of windows was looking back at me, just like the series of window pictures that Jackie's been collecting. So here are some tribute Parma windows for Jackie. See you soon, Bella!

Arance della salute...e biscotti

Last Saturday, Slow Food partnered with other organizations for Le Arance della Salute. In piazzas all over Italia, volunteers sold three-kilo bags of Sicilian blood oranges with the profits to benefit the work of the Italian Association for Cancer Research. While walking my three-kilos home, I brainstormed ways to use up so many delicious oranges in short order. That turned out to be no problem. The juicy, red fruit was sweet and went well with every meal. So I set out to use a part of the orange I'd otherwise have thrown away. These cookies have orange zest in the pastry and in the spiced fig filling. Like the oranges, they reminded me of Christmas and were fun to make on a bright, cold day in Parma. I enjoyed listening to episodes of From the Top while pressing the dough, rolling the filling, and pulling pans from the oven.

On Wednesday, two of my fellow UNISG students had a group of us over for dinner and a smelling party. Classes that afternoon had us tasting no less than 22 types of cured meat. The last two were pure cured lard -- delicious but almost more than I could take at that point. So our hostesses' cool, fresh gazpacho and zucchini-potato pancakes with tzatziki hit the spot. We also tested our noses by trying to identify several of the 54 aromas common in wines. From fruits and herbs to baking bread, fir tree, and even animal musk, I did much more guessing than I would have liked. I supposed that means I should study more (and drink more wine).

Orange Zest and Almost Cookies with Spiced Fig
For the pastry: Cream about a 1/2 cup butter with a little more than 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Mix in the zest of one orange and 1 beaten egg. Toast about 1 cup of blanched, unsalted almonds. When cool, ground the almonds into a relatively fine flour. In a separate bowl, mix the almond flour, a little more than 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Combine the dry ingredients into the batter. Cover the dough and refrigerate until chilled completely.

For the filling: Put about 20 dried figs into a medium pot. (Any variety that you like will do. Just be sure any stems are cut off.) Pour port (a ruby port is just fine) into the pot until the figs are covered. Add a dash of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg (freshly grated is best), and salt. Mix in the zest of one orange and sugar according to taste (I usually add a little more than 1/8 cup). Stew the figs in the port mixture over low heat until they're quite soft and have absorbed most of the liquid -- should take about 30-40 minutes. Cool the figs to room temperature and then run them through a food processor to get a seedy, smooth, thick paste. Refrigerate the fig paste until chilled completely.

Make about flat rounds about two-inches in diameter out of the chilled pastry. Roll it out and cut the rounds with a glass or biscuit cutter or roll pieces of the dough into balls a little smaller than a ping pong ball and then flatten the dough ball between two pieces of plastic wrap. Use two tea spoons to form a little egg-shaped piece of the fig paste. Lay the paste onto the pastry round and bring up the edges around the long sides of the "egg" of fig filling.

You might make one pan-full of cookies and then put the pastry and filling back into the fridge to keep cool while you bake the cookies at about 350F for 10 minutes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Macerata Monday: Through the Grapevines

So I had this idea to post pictures on the blog. I know, it's revolutionary, huh? :)

Seriously, though, I haven't been doing a very good job documenting life in Italy, especially here in my town of Macerata, and I thought that this was a good chance to not only make of use of a new camera (a Christmas gift to Antonello and me from my parents--thank you!), but also show off my favorite Italian town a bit. I'm planning to make this a weekly thing, hence "Macerata Monday" instead of, say "Macerata the 12th of each month" or something (plus, wouldn't you say "Macerata Monday" sounds better?). Another important thing is I don't want to just take a bunch of pretty pictures and say "this is where I live," but I want to photograph daily things, or at least daily parts of my own life here. So don't be surprised if a picture of Antonello makes the list now and then, or pictures of my friends, or pictures of my favorite pizzeria. This is MY Macerata Monday, after all.

Macerata from the countryside. See it on Flickr.

I wanted to start off with this one, taken during my parents' visit to Italy this past December/early January. This drive is one my husband takes every morning early on his way to work. It's a great way to start a day, I think--driving past this panorama of beautiful Macerata, vineyards and gardens and even some sunflowers in June. We stopped to photograph it, pulled the car over the side of the road and made use of a beautiful day by snapping away. It is one of my favorite places to see Macerata, because, on this road, the city sort of jumps out at you between curves. Before you even know it, Macerata is there, in front of you, across a patch of countryside.

Anyway, I would highly reccommend taking the scenic route next time you're in town.


A List of Little Things

Like Corrie, I am drastically behind on blogging, and it's not for a lack of things to post. So, I'm copying her idea of a quick list of updates. More blogging relatively soon--this week is going to be a busy one (and, anyway, you're better off following Colts Superbowl coverage this week than reading our blog--what kind of Colts fan are you!?! :) That said, In case you need more Colts stuff to get in the superbowl spirit, go to Indy Star's Superbowl center to download some cool desktop wallpaper for your computer, featuring your favorite Colts player--mine's up, and it's Marvin Harrison. Plus, RIGHT NOW go and sign up for Cyndi's superbowl party--I'm gonna be there, are you? Hey, we're talking virtual chips and dip!)

1. Waaay back in December (it seems so long ago!) I had a very special moment in my Italian driver's-license-adventure. I passed the Italian driver's ed theory test, a test I spent a good three months preparing for. Regular classes and frequent studying helped me to figure out the theory, and by the last few days before the test, I was explaining to Antonello the rules of the road (which he wasn't exactly happy about!). Despite all of my studying, nothing could prepare me for what happened that day: I had been planning to take the test in English (all of my study materials were in English, and the Driver's ed school had told me that the test would be in English), but upon arriving, I opened my test and found it to be completely in Italian. Ahh, wonders never cease in Italy. Luckily, those classes I had been attending had been in Italian too, so the strange new vocabulary I had gained regarding trucks and road blocks and headlights and more turned out to be my saving grace. Next up: the practical test. Wish me luck!! (and maybe it's best for you to stay off the roads in Macerata for a bit? Just until I figure out how to change gears...)

2. My parents were here for Christmas and New Year's, and we celebrated with time in Le Marche as well as trips elsewhere. After a couple of days in Bologna and a day trip with Antonello to the Umbrian town of Spello, we rented a car and headed down south, following the coast to Puglia and hoping to both hit some warmer weather and see a different side of Italy. Well, warmer weather, there wasn't. Somehow we were immediately hit with biting cold wind and even rain--what kind of southern paradise is this?!? Still, we did manage to see a completely different side of Italy: Puglia in itself is made up of so many facets--from the mountainous Gargano peninsula--the spur of Italy's boot--to castles galore built by Frederick II to whitewashed seaside towns, we saw as much as we could in just a couple of days. There's so much more to see, so we took this trip as a little taste of the south (and that taste of course included culinary specialties as well: I think we're hooked on homemade taralli and Puglian wine now, and here's a recipe for the delicious orecchiette I tried in Monte Sant' Angelo). Anyway, it was a great trip--next time, though, we're going when it's warm!

above: Trani's romanesque wonder, its cathedral. below: the famous Castel del Monte built by Frederick II (check out the back of a one cent Italian coin to see what I'm talking about) and a view of the white washed houses of Monte Sant' Angelo, a pilgrim's path town on the Gargano peninsula.

3. As a way to get back into blogging, and to use the new camera that my parents gave Antonello and me for Christmas, I want to start posting a weekly Macerata picture and explanation. I think Monday is the obvious day to post, since it's my least busy, and it's the start of the Italian week. More about that soon (aha, it's Monday today! I'd better get working...), so be on the lookout for a Macerata Monday post and picture. Perhaps Corrie could start a Parma Friday picture? Heck, every day is a good day for cheese!

4. School starts this week, so things are getting busier over here, work wise. The whole SEASON of autumn felt like a year of unpaid leave, so I'm glad to be getting started again, even though this year the lessons are fewer and far between (10 lessons a week for 10 weeks, instead of our usual 15 lessons a week for 14 weeks). Anyway, wish me luck as I try to explain the principles of American football to a class of 30 twelve year olds. Hmmm, maybe I'd better think of another lesson plan...

5. A couple other things--I recently received a WONDERFUL pacco from my friend Lori back in Virginia--complete with a handmade scarf that I've been wearing everywhere! Thanks again Lori, and we look forward to seeing you in March! Plus, this upcoming weekend, after my first busy week in a while, I get a vacation (already?)--Corrie and I are meeting up in Florence for a couple of days to relive our bottle-throwing days. Yearly, Corrie, Erin, Cassie, and I make a point of remembering that day, 8 years ago (has it really been that long?), when we threw a bottle filled with love letters into the Arno River and watched it head toward America. This year will be the same sort of memory, but a little closer to the place it all started: Cass and Erin--we'll be thinking about you, of course, and we will throw plenty of things in the river for you, so be on the lookout in your local rivers and lakes! Wish we could all be together on this bottle-day...hopefully we can make some phone calls from Florence? :) Anyway, I'm really excited about it: reliving bottle day (a few days early) with all of us somehow connected to the place it started: the city of Florence. Read about the bottle experience here, and relive past bottle days here.

Okay, that's it for now. I've got a busy morning ahead of me, and I need to get going. Have a great week!


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Catch up

I'm woefully behind in blog posts and recipes AGAIN. The following should bring my posts into the present, even though the laundry list of events hardly gives due to the wonderful friends and memorable experiences it includes.
  • Natale a Macerata: I was so grateful to Jackie and Antonello for including me in their Maceratese Christmas. Like family, they welcomed me into their home and even had a stocking with my name on it. Christmas Day dinner was a pitch-in feast with new and old friends, including uncommonly moist cornmeal muffins alle americane. Jackie and I discovered that we liked cornbread made with a fine polenta flour even better than the cornmeal versions back in the states. So the mini-recipe for this event? Try replacing cornmeal with a finely ground polenta in your favorite cornbread recipe or one of the variations from the National Cornbread Festival.
  • New Year's in Parma: Alida, Sharin', and Shilo -- lifelong friends from the States -- came to visit bell'Italia for the first week of 2007. Along with trips to Ravenna, Bologna, Firenze, Cremona, and several Emilia-Romagna towns in between, we enjoyed a traditional capodanno dish: lenticchie con cotechino. Our steaming plates were filled with cotechino from a butcher just down the street here in Parma. The lentils, though, were a special gift from Jackie and Antonello. Lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia are an IGP product and many Italians eat them to bring wealth in the new year since the little legumes look like miniature coins. It's not too late to get in on this New Year's tradition. You might try a version like this one.
  • Courses after the Christmas break brought most but not all the UNISG class of 2007 back to Parma and Colorno. Our group was in a pretty sad state with car accidents, surgeries, pneumonia, slipped disks, and all manor of life's challenges. We celebrated being together again and toasted everyone well with a multiple birthday party for the end-of-December and January birthday folks. The Grande Dames of Via Bottesini played hostesses for this "black and white" event. Buon compleanni!
  • These are the tortelli that forgave Carlo Petrini. The founder and leader of Slow Food arrived more than 30 minutes late to meet us, the UNISG class of 2007. In addition to his inspiring and thought-provoking presentation, he begged forgiveness by telling us about a necessary stop he'd made for the region's famous tortelli and salumi at Nonna Bianca in Trecasali. Taking his cue, we made a reservation. The perfect tortelli d'erbetta, among five other delicious courses, I'll remember for a long, long time. Carlo's tardiness, on the other hand, is forgiven and forgotten.
  • While my classmates and I joke about "fish week" at ALMA (and the sometimes questionable dishes we're offered for lunch that week), we enjoyed what might be called our "pork week." Over the three days of last week's stage, we visited producers, farms, and restaurants dealing with prosciutto di parma and culatello di zibello.
  • The Colts are in the Superbowl! And along with the team, another representative from Indy will head to Miami. Both Jackie and I worked with the incredibly talented Chef Greg Hardesty at Elements, an award-winning Indianapolis restaurant. Greg will be paired with Earl Morrall for the Taste of the NFL, a food and wine tasting event to raise awareness and dollars for hunger-relief organizations involved in the effort to end childhood hunger in the United States. Go Colts!
  • My first Parmigiano snow came on Friday. We rode the bus from Colorno back to Parma, watching the big, wet flakes hit the windshield, and then let the flakes melt into our coats on the long walk for a couple glasses of wine and a slice of pizza before a late, warm bedtime.

So that's the abbreviated version. In honor of catching up, here's a recipe for homemade ketchup (and even a way to find a pick-your-own farm near you).