Tuesday, March 23, 2010

L'Italia, la terra di incantesimo

We have each visited the intoxicating country of Italy. Italy offers a treat for all senses…..the food is superb, the people are gracious, engaging, and friendly, the architecture is magnificent, the countryside is stunning, the wine is…the wine (what else can we say), and the art transports us to a time in history that we now only know through words. Although our cameras captured the images, the memories of this amazing country are as vivid as they were the days we spent there. We did not want to come back….but come back we did.

One trip was a culinary tour. Traveling with a group of people is sort of like making a meal or knitting a garment. The heretofore discrete relationships develop over the course of the days and with each interaction....similar to adding an ingredient or knitting a stitch, every one contributing to the complexity, texture and depth of the finished product, a friendship, albeit short term. The tour took us to Rome (standing in the Coliseum was a humbling experience indeed), Tivoli (which sustained heavy bombing during WWII), Lucca, Siena (sigh!), Pisa, Florence (there is a gate on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) where couples fasten a lock on which they write their names and throw the key into the Arno River…how romantic!) and the Italian countryside of Montacatini Terme, into the farmhouse of a local chef (complete with a Tuscan wood-burning oven).

Before going to the farmhouse, we toured the local market where the most magnificent meats, fishes, fruits, vegetables and herbs were displayed. We sampled the creamiest homemade pasta that simply melted in the mouth. The chef cooked for the group and shared some of his cooking techniques and recipes. Some of us participated as sous chefs, chopping vegetables while sipping Prosecco and with lunch, we had wine (it’s a good thing there was fence surrounding the hillside!).

One dish we made is the La pasta con la Salsa di Carne ed il Formaggio parmigiano (Pasta with Meat Sauce and Parmesan Cheese) that we had for dinner("cena" in Italian) tonight. This is the text of the recipe they passed out after this delightful Tuscan meal…”For the sauce, chop onions, celery and carrots and brown them in olive oil. Then, add meat dampened with red wine. Add peeled tomatoes and water and cook for two hours.” (This reminded us of when we would say, “Grandmom, how much flour do you use?” and grandmom would reply….“who knows, this much” while pouring some unmeasured amount of flour out on the table). We had to define and adjust the quantities and the recipe is posted on the recipe page. We served the sauce with fresh pasta, a crisp red wine, Castello di Monastero, Sangiovese Toscana (2006), and a Caesar Salad. We had almond cake and chocolate tea for dessert…a perfect evening.

When cooking, always try to use the finest ingredients available…it makes such a difference. For this dish, we used organic, farm raised beef, fresh vegetables, a very good olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, and a delicious, aged parmesan cheese (a little pricey, but so worth it!).

The Accomplished Knitter and Formerly Timid discussed what seems to be an easy-to-make sweater from a pattern we found on It calls for knitting together a beautiful gold mohair and an equally beautiful grey mohair/acrylic blend. We found the gold mohair in a yarn shop in Melbourne, Australia and ordered the required skeins (gotta love the Internet). Still searching for the grey yarn and will visit the local yarn shop this weekend.

No comments: