Thursday, September 26, 2013

Firenze: Le Scarpe (shoes)

One of my favorite things to do in Italy, and especially in Firenze, is to look at shoes. Shoe design is an art form, and one is able to see some of the most creative, unusual, beautiful, crazy and expensive shoes here in Florence. The most interesting ones are usually on people's feet, but it's not easy to get photos of them. So I resort to window shopping. Here are a few examples of what I've been seeing this year: (be sure to click on the images to get a closer view!)
Louis Vuitton, 1240 euros
Fendi, 1500 euros
Ugh! These look heavy!
Pucci, 1990 euros
the "slave" design
Leopard designs are "in" this fall.
Dolce & Gabbana, 695 euros
Sergio Rossi, 590 euros

A Ferragamo creation: can you find the 950 euro shoe?
And for some diversity, here's a few displays of handbags and jewelry
Angela Caputi - Giuggiu'
Dolce & Gabbana

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bologna: Tortelli-making lessons

Tortelloni, Tortelli di Zucca : the finished product
While in Bologna visiting my friends Massimo, Sofia and Erika, Sofia taught me to make Tortelli di Zucca (tortelli with a pumpkin filling). Here's how it went:

start with the flour
add eggs
mix the eggs into the flour
knead the dough
roll the dough out
roll out to desired thickness
prepare the filling: pumpkin with walnuts and nutmeg
Sofia made two types of filling, using a special kind of green pumpkin known as the Mantova pumpkin.  In fact, Tortelli di Zucca originates from Mantova, where the pumpkins come from.

Mantova pumpkins
One filling was made with a mostarda, which is  basically candied pears and apples and sometimes quince, preserved in a mustard flavored syrup, along with other ingredients. The other filling had walnuts and nutmeg as its base.

one way of doling out the filling
a simple way to mark the "pillows" of tortelli
cutting the individual tortelli
Everyone joins in to make the tortelloni, which requires some finesse: Erika, Anna, Massimo, Sofia.
Sofia showed me several ways to make the tortelli, and then how to shape the pasta into tortelloni. At this point, everyone joined in, including Massimo's cousin, Anna, who had come for the cena (dinner).

the shape of tortelloni
Once the pasta is made, it's boiled until done, and served with a light butter sauce with sage and parmigiano cheese (sugo).

Cooking the pasta and sugo
You've seen the finished product in the first picture on this post, but there was much more for dinner that day. Sofia is an artiste with food and pastry, and she had special supplies of food sent from her home town in Southern Italy for the meals she made during my stay, including this braid of buffalo milk mozzarella, that was used in several dishes:

Buffalo milk mozzarella from Campania
The buffalo that produce milk for the best mozzarella are not bison, but water buffalo, and come from the area near Salerno, in southern Italy. There is nothing like the taste of fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, and there's nothing in the U.S. that can compare. For our meal that evening, Sofia made aperitivi in a creative way, with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, olives and basil:

Earlier in the day, Sofia also made profiteroles, which are basically very small cream puffs. Sofia loves to cook and makes everything from scratch. The finished profiteroles were served for dessert. Needless to say, everything was DELICIOUS and it took several days to recover from this magnificent meal.

filling the profiteroles with cream
Three mounds of profiteroles, covered in chocolate, coffee and cream. Look closely and you'll also see handmade swans.
Grazie mille to Sofia for her expertise, creativity and patience! I'm eager to try making Tortelli di Zucca when I get home.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Firenze: My second home

Gifts from the landlady: fresh, homemade olive oil and spumanti!
I still have a few more travels to Bologna and Parma to write about, but wanted to take a break to talk about Florence, where I'm currently staying. I'll be here for a month, as I have a work project I need to do for several weeks, and I have to be settled for that. I've rented an apartment in the San Niccolo quartiere (neighborhood), which has turned out to be a wise decision.  The landlady picked me up at the train station, greeted me with a bottle of spumanti, and later brought over a bottle of olive oil from the family's stash. What a welcome! I think I'll be very comfortable here.

The living room
For one thing, my apartment is spacious, which is a major change over the apartment I had in the fall of  2010 when I lived here. In that place, there was a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a terrace. The bathroom was creepy, with a shower in one corner, and the place was cold during much of my stay. I whined a lot while I was there! In the new place, I have room to spread out, with several beds and bathrooms and even comfy arm chairs. The apartment is well-stocked with linens and all the kitchen items I'll need. All for the same price as the previous place! There's no terrace, and the kitchen is dinky, but it's quiet in this part of Florence, away from the touristy center, and I have lovely views of the hills and the river Arno when I go outside.

Dining room/work space
the Italian way: making the best use of small spaces
Another great thing is that my friend Haruko is living in Florence, having moved here last year from her home in Tokyo. We met in 2006 when we were both attending a language immersion school, and became fast friends. For the next three years, we were in Italy at the same time and made sure to spend time together. But we haven't been able to meet again since 2009. Now we'll have time to hang out together and enjoy the city we both love. I've also made a few new friends in the short time I've been here, and have had several people over for aperitivi. My life is a lot more social in Italy than it is at home, which is one of the compelling reasons to return every year.

This week Florence is hosting the UCI (International Cycling Union) Road World Championships, so that's causing a bit of excitement and chaos, with the city center barricaded in areas where the cyclists are racing. It will be the biggest sporting event in the history of Florence. Cyclists from 54 nations have qualified, with a total of 227 racers vying for victory in 12 races between September 22 and 29. I'll have more to share on that later. In the meantime, ciao from Firenze!

The Duomo as a backdrop to the racing path

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sud Tirol: Cortaccia, Termeno

Italy’s oldest wine road
A charming spot in Cortaccia
As you move farther north, the Sud Tirol aspect of the region becomes more dominant, as does the German language. According to the 2011 census, 96.25% of the population here speak German, while only 3.36% speak Italian.

In this region, all signs are written in German first, then Italian
While in Mezzocorona the other day, I noticed some unusual chalk marks above the bar where we stopped for coffee and hot chocolate. Lucia explained that it's a kind of code, showing that carolers came by this bar on the feast of the Epiphany, (January 6). As we traveled to other villages in the region, I saw many more of these markings on the doors of homes and businesses where the carolers stopped.

This shows that carolers visited this bar this year.
"The markings include letters, numbers, and crosses in a pattern like this: 20 † C † M † B † 12. The numbers correspond to the calendar year (20 and 12, for instance, for the year 2012); the crosses stand for Christ; and the letters have a two-fold significance: C, M, and B are the initials for the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), but they are also an abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, which means,“May Christ bless this house.”

This shows that the last time the house was visited by carolers was in 2010.
One day we visited two villages on the Strada del Vino (the road of wine), so called because it has long been used to transport wine. Though every region has its own wine road, this one is the oldest. It's a popular area for Germans to ride bikes, visiting the various villages along the way, and we saw scores of older cyclists during our visit. We visited Cortaccia and Termeno. Tramin (Termeno in Italian) is the home of the grape variety Gewürztraminer.
Italy’s oldest wine road

Church steeple in Tramin
Street view
Lucia on our hike to the church of St. Jakob
"The symbol of this village is the Gothic parish church with its 86 m tower, the highest free-standing stone masonry tower in South Tyrol. The small Romanesque church of St. Jakob at Kastelaz still preserves the most ancient cycles of frescoes in the German speaking area."

St. Jakob, the church we were hiking to
As for the food in this region, they like meat, potatoes, butter and cream. It was a bit heavy and rich for my taste, as I prefer the Mediterranean diet. But I must admit, our lunch was delicious!

Ravioli with lots of butter!
Gnochetti with spinach and lots of cream!
Enjoying the view from the church of St. Jakob
Varieties of Gewurtztraminer wine for sale in Tramin (Termeno).
I'm so very fortunate to have friends who willingly transport me through their regions, introducing me to many places and traditions that I would never have discovered on my own. Grazie mille, Lucia!