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Archive for the ‘Italy’ Tag

Roman Pizza   Leave a comment

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Mani ai Pizzeria’s doors open at 6:30 p.m. We arrived just as a small line was forming. This is a no-frills pizza joint that serves great pies and entertains, at least we were entertained by the pizzamakers. There was neither tossing nor twirling of unbaked dough, but a calm, systematic approach to churning out 15 made-to-order pizzas at a time.

2017-02-23-19-57-11We shared a mixed salad, a liter of the house red and a Margarita pizza. That was our first order before we were mesmerized by the assembly-line process with a personal touch.

Pieces of dough are pulled from a large mound and formed into the size of tennis balls. These are rolled flat and stacked. Initially, there were two men making the pies. One rolled, creating a flurry of flour, one checked supplies and fed the wood-burning oven. The maestros then methodically cover some with sauce, most with cheese – a lot of cheese – and then the specific topics that included mounds of mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, raw sausage (it cooked in the oven), more cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. The marble slab looked like a carpet of pizzas.

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I wondered if the first ones in the oven would be the last out. This wasn’t the case. The guys know their stuff. The pizzas are served unsliced. The crust is thin and easily folds  in half. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful. We enjoyed ours so much we ordered a second just so we could keep watching — and eating!

 

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Pesto is the Best(o)   3 comments

 

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I’d been told many times that pesto made from basil grown in the Cinque Terre is especially good. The warm sun and coastal air make the licorice-flavored herb uniquely pungent. Basil is not a mild flavor, so I was intrigued by the idea of a different, perhaps stronger taste. I ate pesto several times over the course of three days to make sure.

Rest assured, it was very good, but I think the local olive oil may also be a contributing factor. Although, each dish I sampled allowed the rich green basilica to shine. The oil did not overpower, which can be the case with some versions.

We stayed in Riomaggiore where in late February it is still the low season. We found only two restaurants open. In nearby Manarola, there were more options, but not an overwhelming  number.

My pesto dinners were surprisingly different, albeit only slightly. One, at Pizzeria da Mam’angela, featured potatoes. Osteria Maite’s had pine nuts and was a darker green, but both were mixed with perfect al dente tagliolini, a linguini-like fresh pasta.

La Scogliera in Manarola offered several options for pesto, including lasagne, gnocchi and minestrone. I had the latter. The soup was rustic and hearty . The serving was just right for a late lunch.

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At home a large serving of pasta with pesto would suffice as a meal. One night I opted to eat as Italians do and had a primi plati and a secondi plati (grilled swordfish). It was a lot of food. The second evening  I had only pasta. Perfecto!

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The Confessions of Frances Godwin   Leave a comment

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Our youngest son recently graduated from Knox College; I’d been vaguely aware of it years before because of Sixteen Pleasures, a book I enjoyed for its setting (Florence, Italy) and strong female narrator. This same son gave me an autographed copy of Hellenga’s most recent work, The Confessions of Frances Godwin, which had been languishing on my nightstand far too long.

The setting is mostly Galesburg, Ill., with Knox figuring prominently; other locales include Milwaukee, Rome and Verona. With Frances, Hellenga introduces another female narrator. I admit I’m intrigued by his ability to create such true female voices.

It’s 2006 and Frances has retired from a career as a high school Latin teacher. At first, the novel appears to be a vehicle for her to reflect on her past because she soon recounts how she met her husband, Paul, a Shakespeare scholar from whom she took classes (at Knox). She tells of their affair, their eventual marriage and life together in Galesburg. They have a daughter, Stella, who as a grown woman appears to make a series of bad choices when it comes to men.

The story is occasionally heavy handed. Consider, Frances’ name: Godwin. Several times, she converses with God, who, among other things, entreats her to go to confession. By this point it’s clear that she does have more than a few things to own up to.

Love and guilt are not unusual companions; for Frances, they’re a large part of who she is.

The Confessions of Frances Godwin
Four Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2014
305 pages

A Technicolor Love Story   4 comments

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins is a cinematic novel. It’s easy to imagine this story playing on the silver screen. It spans years and continents, relies heavily on the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and features a strong connection to the movie industry. At its core, this is a love story, and a beautiful one at that.

Jess Walter’s tale involves a young actress, Dee, who arrives in an isolated Italian fishing village on the Ligurian Sea, where she meets Pasquale the owner of the Adequate View Hotel. Dee has been sent from Rome, where she had a bit part in the filming of Cleopatra. Dee is also pregnant with Burton’s child. Although it may sound like a blurb from People magazine, Walter imbues his narrative with deep feelings, humor, interesting characters and a clear passion for romance.

However, just when it seems the story will settle in the fishing village (the most interesting place) or even Los Angeles (because of the Hollywood scene), several miscellaneous locales are introduced: Seattle, London, Spokane, Florence, even Donner Pass in Northern California. Walter includes an assortment of characters, none of whom, surprisingly, are superfluous. Added, to this mix are different time periods: the early 1960s, the 1800s, and something more contemporary. The myriad of people, places and eras at first seems disparate, but they actually are essential what makes this such an engaging work.

Ruins are most often associated with architecture. Here Walter incorporates them into the erosion, but not extinction, of human emotions.

Beautiful Ruins
Four Bookmarks
Harper, 2012
337 pages

From Italy to Eternity   3 comments

I love receiving books as gifts, especially when it’s obvious the bearer has
decided it’s something I would particularly enjoy. I try to do the same,
but am not – admittedly – always successful. I’m pleased to say my friend,
Esteban, was on the money in giving me Tracey Lawson’s A Year in the
Village of Eternity.

Lawson writes of food and Italy  (two of my favorite things) and longevity.
The secret to a long life has nothing to do with a fountain of youth. Instead,
it is a cascade of fresh, organic, seasonal food augmented by family, friends
and an active lifestyle. That’s Lawson’s premise as she describes Campodimele,
Italy, where the average life expectancy, for men and women, is 95 years!

Lawson provides a month-by-month account of a year in Campodimele, thus
sharing seasonal experiences that coincide with weather, festivals, crops and
food preparation. The village is located between Rome and Naples in the
mountains above the Tyrrhenian coast. The focus is on the people, individuals
who shared their kitchens, produce and recipes, but it’s their lifestyle that is
particularly intriguing. Numerous studies have been conducted linking longe-
vity to the Campomelano diet which is low in salt, includes moderate amounts
of wine, and is  full of protein-rich beans, fish and chicken. All this in addition
to fresh produce, which is canned, dried or otherwise preserved to last through-
out the year.

A bonus, besides Lawson’s vivid, sensual imagery of the landscape, people and
meals, is the collection of photographs and recipes.

A Year in the Village of Eternity
Three and a half Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2011
374 pages