Friday, October 29, 2010

Nestor’s Pizzeria Fridays: Patate e Bianca, Ruboscuore

We hit Nestor’s Pizzeria and Bierreria last night (I know, I know, only two times in our first three weeks here—somewhat hard to imagine), and had some absolutely delicious pizzas. If you missed the first installment of Nestor’s Pizzeria Fridays, then go there now to learn a bit more about Nestor’s. If you don’t feel like clicking (cause you’re getting too hungry and don’t want to waste time), let just say that Nestor’s is the best pizza in the world, and one of the friendliest spots in Umbria for a meal. Last night, I had a new pizza for me, Patate e Bianca. Which means potato and white (as you could have, or did, guess), and which was a non-red-sauce pizza. It had big chunks of crisp potatoes, a couple pinches of fresh rosemary, and some freshly grated parmesan (as well as mozzarella underneath it all), with the reliably perfectly crisp Nestor’s crust:

Nat had one of our all-time favorite Nestor’s pies (and though I loved mine, I was awfully glad that she wanted to share), the Ruboscuore (by the way, I’m not 100% sure I’m spelling that right. Or even 50% sure. I need to write it down on our next trip). It’s a red sauce pizza, with giant chunks of wild mushrooms, béchamel sauce, mozz cheese, and walnuts. The mushroom taste on this pizza is so amazing and juicy:

Here’s to another night of the world’s best pizza (and, since we saved a bit, here’s to a lunch the next day of a slice of Nestor’s pizza topped with an egg—another favorite treat).

*All Nestor's Pizzeria

D.S.D.I.: Dr. Strange Scales Mount Bierra

* All D.S.D.I. (Dr. Strange Does Italy) posts

* The first post and the explanation behind D.S.D.I. posts

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Valerie, Mike, Spello, Wine, and the Small World

If you don’t know it, I write books in the cocktail-home-entertaining-food-poetry arena (hey, since we’re here, let me give a plug: buy my books). For most all of the books I’ve been extremely lucky in that my editor has been a genius named Valerie Cimino. She’s had a major hand in shaping every book we’ve worked together on, with fantastic ideas and guidance from the first page to the last. She’s also a big Italian-ophile, and won’t shy away from a good cocktail (or good wine), which isn’t the only reason we’re pals beyond the working relationship, but doesn’t hurt, either. Sometime in late summer, when working on a book (that comes out next fall--keep your eyes peeled), we realized her and her husband Mike were planning on an Italian vacation during the dates Nat and I were pre-tiring here. Once we knew the dates were matching up on the calendar, we decided lickety-split to meet up for a long lunch, some good conversation, and some catching up, all of which happened last week, in a lovely  town called Spello (after a side trip to a town called Cannara, which had no restaurants open for lunch, weirdly—but like many near misses on a journey, the miss ended up working in our favor).

Spello is sorta in the middle between our home in the Niccone valley and Trevi, where Val and Mike were staying, about 45 minutes from us and 20 from them. This was great for Nat and I, as we’d mostly stuck in our area so far. Spello is an Umbrian hill town that’s very picturesque, with sun-dappled streets (does anyone say “sun-dappled” anymore? They should):
but a town definitely on the tourist trail (it’s near Assisi, which is a big stopping spot--and even more beautiful), which means more locals speak English and that there are more shops angled at tourists, which is unlike our neighborhoods. We just parked at the bottom of the hill Spello’s on, and then walked up, deciding to choose a lunch spot at random. We were about halfway up, near a lovely church with a sorrowfully austere metal horse in front of it:
when we noticed Enoteca Properzio (an Enoteca is a wine shop, most of which also have light lunches). We were checking out the menu when a very friendly woman working there came out and started talking to us, and coaxed us in--it was a very cozy place, lots of old brick work and wine everywhere, but with a lot of modern touches, too (but not so many as to be annoying). We sat down and picked our lunches and were talking to our friendly waitress (the one who spoke to us on the way in), and she brought over the owner, Roberto Angelini. He doesn’t speak English, but was extremely friendly and debonair in an older Italian man kind of way. It turns out (the waitress is translating) that he travels around the U.S. once a year doing wine tastings and wine selling and dinners, going to NY, Chicago, LA, other cities, and Seattle. Once he found out Nat and I were from Seattle, he got very excited, and somewhere in his fast-Italian talking mentioned Amazon (Nat heard it, not me at first), which if you don’t know is where I worked for eleven years, mostly in the Kitchen Store. I naturally mentioned this fact (hey, it was a big part of my life, and I’m proud of the work I did there, even though I’m pre-tired now), and then he got really excited and mentioned “Jeff.” I thought (as one would) that he meant the big laugh and big boss himself, Jeff Bezos. He then went back to his desk and got this big folder (turns out it was a big sheaf of wine orders) and on the front it said “Jeff Wilke,” who was my bosses bosses boss (which sounds more remote than it was) at Amazon. I guess he and a few other Amazon folks had stopped by (this Enoteca is somewhat well known for its extensive wine selection and charming staff) and made friends with Roberto, and ordered lots of wine--Jeff may have even hosted him back in Bellevue--we were talking pretty rapidly so I may not have caught everything. This is quite an aside, but I just think it’s amazing how the world catches up with you in the strangest places. Here is Roberto and our friendly waitress (so you’ll know them when you stop by--which you should, if you like wine):
The wines we had, as well as the food, at Enoteca Properzio, were first rate. We ended up bringing home a couple memorable bottles, including a light flavorful white called Renaro (which was a combination of Pinot nero, Pinto grigio, and Pinot bianco grapes, and which would go well outside under the sun with cheese and honey, honey) and a dry, rich red called Rosso Assisi Riserva (from 1997, and being “Riserva” made from the best of the best, and all Sangiovese grapes, and sure to be a hit at a dinner with serious spices in play). Look for them at your local wineshop or online.

In my mind though, the best wine doesn’t mean more than a cup of flat diet Dr. Pepper if you aren’t having it with friends and accompanying it with conversation and laughter. This afternoon, we were blessed (by some Italian wine deity I’m guessing) with having both good friends and good wine. The best possibly afternoon, and when the fact that it took place in an Umbrian hill town is thrown into the equation . . . well, it makes for a mighty-fine pre-tirement day. Thanks again Valerie and Mike, for meeting up with us in Spello:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

D.S.D.I.: Dr. Strange Doesn’t Leave Leftovers

* All D.S.D.I. (Dr. Strange Does Italy) posts

* The first post and the explanation behind D.S.D.I. posts

Cielo Chiaro Special: Torta Vegetariana

One of our favorite cookbooks (and probably the most used back home) is the Silver Spoon. It’s a vast tome of Italian cooking, with a focus on what Italians actually cook (as opposed to some chef spinning Italian ideas into new dishes). Our pals KT and Ed gave it to us for a wedding present, and we’ve given it as a wedding present a couple times since then—it’s ideal for any couple (or person, so as not to exclude my single friends) that digs the Italian flavors. One of our favorite recipes (along with the pizza dough recipe and others) is for a cabbage pie, or “torta.” We recently made a version of it here, even (we had to track down the dough recipe to get it just right—it has to be very flaky and rich), adapting it a bit to veggies we had on hand, and then end result both tasted wonderful, and looked divine:
Torta Vegetariana


250 grams butter at room temperature (or two cups, see Note)
250 grams flour (or two cups, see Note)
1-1/2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 medium head fennel, chopped
1/2 medium head cabbage, chopped
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano


1. Mix the butter and flour together until they are combined into a smooth dough. Separate into two pieces, with one slightly larger. Using a Strega bottle (see Pic below) or rolling pin, roll the dough until it’s a quarter inch thick. Put the larger piece into a pie pan or baking dish—it should cover the bottom and sides.

2. Place the remaining butter and oil into a large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and sauté for five minutes, stirring regularly.

3. Add the carrots to the skillet, and sauté for a couple minutes, and then add the fennel and cabbage and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat down the medium, stir, and let sauté for a few minutes. Then cover (I like to leave an edge open) and let sweat and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. You don’t want anything to burn, so watch the heat. You do want everything cooked well.

4. Remove the veggies from the heat, and adjust the seasonings if desired. While they cool a bit, make a layer of sliced eggs on your dough in the pan. You can really have your layers in almost any order, but it’s nice to have something to do while the veggies cool a stitch.

5. Once the egg layer is in, layer the veggies on top of the eggs. Then, make a layer with the cheese.

6. Place the remaining piece of rolled out dough on top of the pie, crimping the top and bottom layers together to make a complete whole. Place it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. It should be hot throughout, and have a nicely done crust. I think it’s best to have it sit for a five minutes before serving.

A Note: No matter what measurement you use, just be sure to have equal amounts butter and flour.

A Pic: Here is how versatile Strega is, as it is not only fantastic to drink, but works to roll dough in a pinch (here you also notice Nat’s awesome ingenuity in action, and can check out the Strega anniversary bottle):

*See more specials: Penne e Noce, Zuppa di Pomodoro e’ Fagioli, Italian Burgers

*See all Cielo Chiaro Specials

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dinner at Locanda di Nonna Gelsa

There are a number of attractive small-to-smaller towns or hamlets in our valley (the Niccone valley, along the border between Umbria and Tuscany), including Liscone Niccone, which is the closest, Mercatale, which sits right up close to Liscone and which has a delicious bakery. The others we drive through on the way to Umbertide (which is larger, and where we go to internet, hit the market, and more), with the final one before the turn to Umbertide being Niccone itself. Driving through it, we always pass a cute little ristorante called Locanda di Nonna Gelsa. It looks so welcoming (as you’d expect a restaurant called the inn of grandmother Gelsa to look) that when we decided to go out the other night, it was an easy pick. It turned out to be a tasty pick, too, with only one mis-step.

We started with an antipasto vegetariana, and it was a delectable knock out. The grilled zucchini (seasoned with a slight spiciness) and eggplant melted in the mouth, the yellow and red peppers had a hint of crunch, and the mozzarella balls balanced the spice and grill taste. But the real stars were the more unexpected members of the plate: a thicker slice of grilled eggplant topped with a chunky tomato topping that mingled those two garden friends perfectly, a zucchini and spiced garlic breadcrumb casserole (well, that’s not it exactly, as it wasn’t mixed thoroughly, but that’s close), and an amazing sformatina funghi. I can’t wait to order this again, even when the picture doesn’t do it justice (I was still getting used to the intimate lighting):
Both Nat and I also went for the soup (after our friendly waitress sold us on it), which was a barley vegetable. It was more creamy than brothy, as the barley had been slow cooked with the veggies, almost as if it was a bulkier risotto (which in a way, it was). It had been raining all day, and soup in a warm cozy spot drives the rain completely out the door and far away. Again, I’d love to have this soup again:
For pasta, I had the tortellacci con zucchini, zafferona e merdorle (or a big tortellini stuffed with ricotta and topped with zucchini, saffron, and almonds) , which was impossible to resist (all those interesting ingredients). And while it didn’t rise to the heights of the previous courses, it was darn tasty. The almonds gave it a tiny crunch that added texture and the spinach pasta had great mouth feel with the ricotta filling:
The only problem in the evening was with Natalie’s pasta course. She had a craving for a good pomodoro (or tomato) sauce, and so ordered the ravioli pomodoro e’ basilica . The pasta itself was solid, but the sauce had an extra helping of nutmeg added to it. I think the idea was to make it exotic, but it didn’t work for her (I didn’t dislike it as much, thinking it more odd than anything else):
The evening was quickly redeemed for her with the dolce, which was crème brulee, brought to the table on fire (I always am a fan of dishes brought to the table on fire, though this somewhat austentatiousness goes against the more austere Italian grain usually) alongside two glasses of Moscato grappa (delish—the Moscato made it a smidge sweeter than most grappas):
I believe we’ll be back to visit grandma Gelsa—but skipping the pomodoro next time (and maybe just ordering two antipasto vegetarianas). Oh, and for any meat eaters reading—the couple next to us shared a steak that came on a special raised tray and that was, really, bigger than my thigh. Insane.

*See more Italian restaurants: Capponi, Nestor's

*See all Italian restaurants

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cielo Chiaro Special: Italian Burgers, Cole Slaw, Creamed Corn

When browsing the aisles at one of our local supermercatos, I’m always on the lookout for “veggie” products. First off, cause both Nat and I are vegetarians (the dogs though, eat any meat that comes their way. Which is why we chase the cats off). Secondly, because after writing the Double Take with pal Jern, I’ve learned how fun it is to use veggie “meats” and such in recipes of all sorts. Third, because I like trying Italian things that mirror American food I eat. There aren’t a lot of these meat substitutes here, but when at the shiny new Eurospar in Trestina the other day, I found some honest-to-goodness Italian veggie burgers in the refrigerated section. I grabbed them without hesitation. Instead of using them as a part of a complex recipe of some sort, we decided to have a little bit of our history and home (not our Seattle home per se, but our Kansas homes): burgers with cole slaw and cream corn. We did Italian up the burgers some (that’s fresh mozzarella on there), but the cole slaw and cream corn were straight up midwestern, with all the sugar, cream, and mayo you’d expect. No recipe for this special (I’ll save that for Italian dishes), but if the slightly blurry (hey, I was hungry, forgive my blurriness) picture gets you craving, let me know and I’ll give you the KS scoop:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Italian Frozen Pizza is Gusto!

This may be mind-blowing, since we’re not but twenty minutes from the best pizza place in the world, and a mere five minutes from Bar Fizz (which is a ristorante in the town closed to us, Lisciano Niccone, and which has darn great pizza), but we had frozen pizza recently. Nat had picked up our first Italian cold, and it had her sleeping achily most of one day and a good portion of a second (once the limeoncello is done, we probably won’t have to worry about colds, cause it cures them almost every time). Once she did finally feel like being somewhat up and about, she really wanted to just have a frozen pizza at home. Hey, I understand her feelings. Haven partaken of my share and then some of frozen pizza when growing up (from really young to a couple weeks before leaving for our pre-tirement), I can understand how it would seem comforting when sick in a way, and like home. When at the store, we had a number of frozen pizza choices, but went with the Sofficini brand’s basic Margarita model:
because it looked dandy, but even more because it had a lizard on the package, and it exclaimed that this pizza was gusto!
And you know what? It may have been the most gusto frozen pizza I’d ever had. The crust was actually crispy, the sauce had lots of flavor, and the cheese didn’t get stringy like most frozen pies (we added a little more fresh basil, and that didn’t hurt either):

Gusto! Indeed.

D.S.D.I.: Dr. Strange Aerates Aperol

* All D.S.D.I. (Dr. Strange Does Italy) posts

* The first post and the explanation behind D.S.D.I. posts

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Limeoncello, Part 1

Limeoncello is one of the great Italian contributions to the liqueur world (and when I say “one of” I mean one of the, say, 569). The sun god of Italian liqueurs, limeoncello is golden, glowing, and regal, taken both before and after dinner. There are many er KG), I realized I should make limeoncello, instead of buying it. It’s one of the benefits of living here, asbrands, some available only here and some available here and in the states, but most (and pretty much every one available stateside) branded and professionally bottled limeoncellos aren’t as flavorsome, or as filled with umph, as the homemade varieties you find in ristorantes here, or the limoncello folks here and there make themselves. When I came across some very reasonably-priced lemons in the market the other day (1 euro per KG), I realized I should make limeoncello, instead of buying it. It’s one of the benefits of living here, as opposed to visiting. So, we bought a bunch of lemons::
peeled them (Nat did, that is):

added the peels to a big glass container:
and then added grain alcohol (or vodka) and put them in a dry spot away from sun for a couple weeks before we’ll add the sweetener:

I can hardly wait for that first chilled glass.

PS: The recipe followed is generally the one from Luscious Liqueurs, my book of homemade liqueurs, in case you want to make your own limeoncello, which you should.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lunch at Capponi in Umbertide

Umbertide is the closest small city of note, about 15 to 20 minutes away, depending on how fast we take the curves, and where we’ve spent a lot of time as we settle into our new home. We’ve visited all three supermarkets (now that we live here, as opposed to just being tourists, we have to find where the bargains are instead of just la-di-da-ing our way through) in Umbertide, been to the Wednesday market (which I’m sure will be posted about at some point), and spent lots of time searching for free wifi we can tap into without looking too suspicious. We’ve also visited Bar Pina a number of times, which is on the Umbertidean outskirts, and I’m sure will visit it much more. Yesterday though, we left the house on a mission to go to this garden/pet store on the outskirts on a village called Verna, which is itself on the outskirts of a town called Trestina, which to get to we turn left at Niccone, instead of the right we’d take to go into Umbertide. Anywho, we’d driven by said store a couple times, and Nat always wanted to stop but it had been closed every time so far (mostly cause we keep forgetting about the three or four hour Italian break after lunch, when most stores are closed). The store currently has big containers of pumpkins outside, and with Halloween close we wanted to stock up. After picking up our pumpkins, and some garden gloves for Nat, and some treats for the pups, we were driving back, and decided to head toward straight to Umbertide instead of going home. Our route had us traveling past Bar Pina, where we saw Andrew (our friendly British landlord, if you didn’t get that in an earlier post). It would have been un-friendly to drive on by, so we stopped and had a bierra with him (and Marianne, who soon showed up), and then went into town to have lunch. Before leaving Pina though, Andrew and Marianne pointed us in the direction of a ristorante called Capponi for lunch (they hadn’t been in a bit, but said it used to be reliable), and we took their advice. Capponi was in a square off the main square in Umbertide, and has a handy parking lot (it’s also a hotel). It was pretty tasty, but the coolest thing was that they had a dumb waiter that brought the food up from the basement kitchen. The waitress would send the order down, and then, using a series of lights (which we never quite figured out—it was like different colored lights combined with some Morse code functions perhaps), the cooks would let her know when food was ready and she’d hit a button and up food would come. Here it is closed:

and here it is opened:

Genius. It reminded me of being in a restaurant that wanted to be thought of as posh 75 years ago (or, I suppose, made me imagine what it would have been like, cause I wasn’t around that long ago). In the states, the dumb waiter from the past probably would have been disabled long ago, but here, it’s still being used, and the cooks are still in the basement. Oh, if you wondered, the food was by and large tasty. We skipped the provided tourist menus (which enforces you to have a “secondi” or meat course, which we can’t take advantage of unless we bring the dogs along, or doggy bags), but had pastas and sides. I had a ravioli with asparagus and truffle. The ravioli was homemade, and the pasta itself was nicely done, with a slight chew. The filling was also nice, a puréed asparagus and mushroom mix that was texture-y and with good subtle flavor. The only downside was the “fresh” truffles shaved on top. Don’t get me wrong, I adore fresh truffle to exhaustion, but these shavings had no flavor, and were the texture of tree bark. Not so fresh--mostly added to add a euro to the price it seemed. But still a worthy dish:
Nat had tagliatelle with porcinis and her pasta was also homemade and delicious. And the big chunks of porcini were scrumptious, meaty (hah!) and juicy (side note: Nat had had a cold the day before, and says I need to say that when posting the below photo--though I think she looks cute):
I had some potato arrosto (or roasted potatoes) for my side, and they were done just right: steaming and soft on the inside and crisp on the outside. But they were outshined by Nat’s side dish, which was a carrot sformato--a carrot pudding more or less. Sformato (and its variants) is a molded (but not moldy--ba’dump’bump) dish, usually of cooked veggies mixed with egg or cream and cooked in a water bath. We (in this case, me and chef Jeremy Holt, that is) have a great recipe for a spinach-based one in Double Take (go on, go get yourself a copy). This carrot version Nat had was fantastic, slightly creamy and yet not runny at all, very formed, with cooked and possibly pureed carrots mixed with egg and spices:
Then, cause it was Saturday at the time, we shared a big icy lemon/chocolate gelato combo. And that, friends, was lunch:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cielo Chiaro Special: Zuppa di Pomodoro e’ Fagioli

We had some wonderful tomatoes waiting for us when we moved in to Cielo Chiaro, courtesy of Andrew and Marianne (our landlords/Italian caretakers/pretend English Aunt and Uncle). Nat’s been snacking on them, and sandwiching with them a bit, but we still had a number of plump red toms last night at a point in their existence that begged for them to be eaten. Our original idea was a chili-ish number, to ward off the rainy night, but the end result (we didn’t have any chili powder, see, or cumin) ended up being different, but better than we imagined--a rich, tomato and bean soup with paprika’s jump providing the umph and a little Swiss grated on top to tie it all together. Nat was the real genius behind it, as my main contribution was the idea to serve it over a thick slice of bread from the Dolce Forno bakery in Mercatale (which is up the road from us a couple KMs):
Zuppa di Pomodoro e’ Fagioli

Ingredients:1 Tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large tomatoes (the big round ones)
2 cups veggie stock
2-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic (could use fresh, but we had this in the cabinet)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 can cannellini beans, drained
1 can red beans (at least that’s American equivalent), drained
2 to 4 medium thick slices of bread (can serve up to 4)
Grated Swiss cheese

1. Add the butter to a stockpot over medium-high heat. When it’s just past bubbling, add the onions. Saute them, stirring regularly, until their golden brown.

2. Add the tomatoes to the pot, stir, and add the stock. Reduce the heat to a medium-low-ish, and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the spices, stir, and let simmer for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally again (there are lots of occasions here).

4. Add the beans to the pot, stir, and let simmer for five minutes or until the beans are heated through. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add a slice of bread each to a bowl for however many people you’re serving (it should serve up to four). Ladle a large helping of soup over each slice and into each bowl. Top each with grated Swiss cheese.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dr. Strange Does Italy: Dr. Strange Ponders Pomedoro

Okay, I alluded to this earlier, but I have a large dollop of the comic book geek residing deep within me.  Not that I swallowed a comic book geek, but that I am one, partially, though I stepped away from the rack for many years. When I was a kid, my pops used to take me to McPherson Kansas’ Dunkin Doughnuts almost every Saturday, where we’d get doughnuts and then he’d give me a quarter, or thirty-five cents (whatever a comic cost at the time), and I’d go pick out an Incredible Hulk, Defenders, Dr. Strange, or others from the comic shop next door while he drank his coffee. This started a comic book buying regularity that lasted all the way up to graduate school in Kalamazoo, MI--where the comic shop stunk (and not just with the smell of unwashed nerds) and where I stopped buying comics. Until I started working with pal Philip at Amazon. Philip (check out his blog about his cute-as-a-button daughter Yuki, too) has his fair share of comics and buys more every week, and he’s awesome besides, and he goes to Seattle Comic Cons, and convinced me to go. I figured if someone as rad as he is bought comics, maybe I should pick up some more, and this has kept me going to “cons” with him and buying old comics that came out when I was a kid, as well as buying collections of old comics, and (here is where the real geekiness shines) reading one or two comic blogs.

Really, there was one comic blog in particular, Neilalien, that helped spur on my comic geek resurgence in addition to Philip. Enigmatically named, Neilalien himself writes with just the right amount of comic-geekiness, general intelligence, jolliness, and punk-rockiness for my taste. He’s also a Dr. Strange expert/fanatic, and since I dug the Dr. when young, his was the ideal blog to get me reading comics again, especially Dr. Strange  (the original run of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Dr. Strange stories way back when in, in my mind, is one of the pinnacles of comic graphic storytelling: personalized, stylized, and atmospherically charged art with a story that rings heroic to me). My comic buying since becoming re-addicted hasn’t been too out of hand (except that time I bought about 2000 at a charity auction. But hey, it was for charity). It has been voluminous enough that Nat has noticed though--which turned out not to be a bad thing, cause it led her to buy me a set of Defenders (the Defenders being the world’s finest “non-team” consisting of Dr. Strange, the Hulk, the Sub-Marnier, and the Valkyrie, among others here and there) “mini-mates.” These are little action figures and awfully adorable.

Where is this leading? Well, when packing to come to Italy, I slipped the set of little figures into a suitcase, not sure if I was doing it to bring some Seattle color along or to remind myself of my comic collection at home, but along they came. Then, the other day, I was arranging them on the dresser and decided to take some pics with the Dr. Strange figurine. Not sure where the urge came from--probably I thought it’d look cool-y silly, which is something photos need more of--but the first few pics I really dug, and so now I’ve decided to do a series. I both think they look neat, and have noticed that by putting the Dr. in a pic next to a larger object, it makes me consider the other object more closely instead of just passing them by, as well as reminding me that each object has at least a smidge of magic contained within it. This is both with everyday things, like the brick well passed on my morning walk, and with more fleeting objects, like a bowl of pasta. What I don’t plan on doing is getting all essay’d up with each picture. I’ll just put up the picture and a title (under the D.S.D.I. header—that being “Dr. Strange Does Italy”), and then let them stand alone. For the first one, here’s the good Dr. with an Italian staple, the tomato:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cielo Chiaro Vistas, Part 1

Cielo Chiaro means, in Italian, clear skies, and we’ve had mostly clear skies so far while being here. This has afforded us the chance to take a number of pictures of the house and the surroundings, none of which do it justice. And it’s not just that we’re poor photographers (though I’m no Melissa Punch). The way the house is built, it’s divided, sharing a wall with another separate address. This seems to be a regular occurrence in Italy (we’ve had this happen in past Amici spots we’ve stayed at), not just in towns an cities, which might seem obvious, but also in the country, such as we’re in now. But even though we share a wall, I haven’t yet heard anything via the wall from our neighbors (I think most of the shared-ness is against our bathroom and the “cantina” below it--the “cantina” here being not a mess hall/dining area, but a storage area that’s almost underground, like a below-the-house storage area. An area that would, by the by, make a good set for a horror movie). Because of this sharing, it’s hard to get a feel for our “house,” Cielo Chiaro and show it completely in manner that fits its graceful and understated design. But I’m going to give it a shot anyway, and give some of the views around it (I’ll do it in multiple posts, like a slow unveiling. Because there is no need to rush things).  Let’s start with the driveway, where you can see both our leased Peugeot and the iron gates, which make me feel slightly regal each time I drive through them (I’d probably feel that way even more if I didn’t have a problem opening them each time. I know there’s a trick to unsticking the latch, but it’s one I haven’t gleamed yet):

From the driveway, you can either walk up the stairs and in the front door, or walk around the front corner of the house, which will take you either to the big fenced in dog yard (pics of that in a second post), down the lane to the little house (which is almost ready for visitors) and the extended yard, or around the house to the spooky cantina (one of the ornamentations the house had that I enjoy, both for their solidity and their rustic feel are the wooden-slatted shutters on view in this pic):

Walking inside, you pass through the hall, and then on your right through the common room/dining room (which I’m skipping for now), and then in its left corner go into the “master” bedroom. It’s the master bedroom cause it’s the one we sleep in (and we rule), because it’s the one bedroom with one bigger bed instead of two smaller ones, because the bed has a mosquito netting (and mosquitos go for the masters), and most of all because it has a balcony. It’s not a giant balcony, but big enough for two (or two dogs and a person or two), has a wrought railing, and two tall, elegant, doors with two of the above-mentioned shutters on the outside. Here’s the view looking through the bedroom:

and here’s the view when standing on the balcony in the middle of morning, when there’s still a hint of fog on the hills and the sun is beginning to take control of the day:

Of course, it’d be enjoyable to stand on the balcony from dawn until dusk to watch the Umbrian day unfold like a green blanket, but it seems the dogs are barking, so I’ll walk back inside (if anyone notices that the master bedroom is a little less than masterfully clean, remember, we’re still unpacking. Or just messy):

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cielo Chiaro Special: Penne e’ Noce

Though we plan on visiting many local restaurants (including Nestor’s pizzeria, which I already mentioned), we also want to take advantage of the scrumptious local produce, cheese, olive oil, and other products and make meals at home (not to mention enjoy the Italian shopping experience, and follow some semblance of a budget). I may not blog it up about every single morsel made at home—for example, I had an out-of-sight sandwich for lunch today, with radicchio, mozzarella fresca, these amazingly sharp little gerkins, and mayo (Italian mayonnaise is richer and yellower, if you wondered), but I didn’t feel the need to photograph it. However, I did feel the need to photo up and write out our first substantial meal made here at Cielo Chiaro, which was penne with walnuts. It was a great explosion of textures, with the al dente pasta and the crunch of the walnuts bouncing off each other, accented by rich local olive oil, freshly sautéed onions, and some just-grated wonderful Parmigiano Reggiano. Not only did Nat whip it together with aplomb, she also husked and cracked the walnuts after picking them up around the walnut tree in our yard. Here’s the end result, with the recipe below:

Penne e Noce

500 grams Penne pasta (or 17-ish ounces)
Butter (approximately a Tablespoon or two)
Olive oil (also approximately a Tablespoon or two--see Note)
1 small onion, chopped
1 to 1-1/2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions:1. Begin cooking the pasta according to package directions.

2. Add the butter and olive oil to a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and bubbled, add the onion. Sauté, stirring regularly, until the onion is a golden color, 5 to 7 minutes (there should be a bit of an excess of oil and butter that the onion is wading in). Remove it from the heat.

3. When the pasta is done, drain it, and then toss with the onion/oil/butter mixture and the walnuts.

4. Spoon pasta into bowls and top with the cheese and with pepper (black or red as you enjoy) and salt if needed.

A Note: As mentioned, you want a little excess oil and butter as they, once infused by the onion, create a lovely coating for the pasta and mingle nicely with the walnuts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nestor’s Pizzeria Fridays: 4 Formaggio & Radicchio

One of the reasons we originally fell in love with this particular area (there are many, many others, scenic and gastronomic and artistic and more) was due to a pizzeria we visited the last night of our original vacation here with Seattle pals Jeremy and Megan. It was and is called Pizzeria Nestor’s, or Nestor’s Pizzeria, and we sat outside (it was summer) and had what I believe is some of the finest, if not the finest, pizzas in the world. But the delicious pizzas weren’t the sole reason for loving Nestor’s so much: the family that owns it is also incredibly nice, friendly, and welcoming (even to Americans who stumble around the Italian language like they were afraid of it). Because of this combination, we’ve stopped into Nestor’s at least once, and sometimes twice, each time we’ve returned to the area. When moving here, having relatively close access to Nestor’s (if not living on its roof) was a main desirable—we wanted to be able to go at least once a week. We ended up 20 minutes away (or less, depending on who is driving and how badly they need to use the loo), which means we may not go every week, but plan on stopping in fairly regularly. And on Fridays, because that seems the right day, as Nestor’s is both pizzeria and birreria: a pizza and beer joint, which is a rarity here. I probably won’t post on the Fridays we visit, but will entitle all the Nestor’s posts the same, so you can follow our pizza adventures easily.

Our first stop there happened our first Friday here (the day after we arrived, or last Friday). I had, after much deliberation, a pizza I’d never tried before, the 4 Formaggio & Radicchio. And as I’d expected, it was delish, with cheese oozing all over the place--but not making the crust soggy--and lovingly bitter sparks of radicchio announcing themselves every other bite (and excuse the slightly blurry pic--I was shaking from excitement):
Nat had the Venezina, which was another new one for us, and also a masterpiece of choice ingredients (in her case, onion and parsley), crisp crust, and cheese. Knowing how to balance out the ingredients, so they each get to shine instead of amalgamating into one tasteless mess, is one reason real Italian pizza is so good:
Oh, I almost forgot (and I certainly don’t want to forget—there’s no need for getting any appetizers mad at me), we started with Bruschetta Verde, which again had that balance of taste and texture mentioned above: here it was salty pecorino, tart roket, toasted bread, and olive oil:
Salute Nestor’s!