Monday, August 29, 2016


The village of Amatrice is famous for its pasta all'Amatriciana, a simple preparation made with guanciale (cured pork jowl), a bit of onion or garlic but usually not both, pinches of red pepper depending on your heat meter and tomatoes.  Some finish it off with a bit of Italian parsley, while others toss it with the pasta, and sprinkle with cheese (usually Pecorino, since this is sheeps' milk cheese country) I used Buccatini, which is traditional, but I've also made it with penne, or rigatoni which catches bits of the guanciale in its holes.
This is a simple dish, yet its simplicity belies the sum of its parts; one can eat an entire bowl of this pasta, savouring each bite just as the first.
Sadly the Amatriciana festival was this weekend, and the small historic village is a heap of rubble.  In honor of this beautiful place in this proud country, I made Amatriciana for our family at the enoteca. I've cooked for lots of people in my day but cooking for Italiani is another story!  These people know their pasta, and flavors and I wanted to get this one just right: no overcooked pasta, no bland sauce, but not too much pepperoncino.  There were smiles and words like complimenti when they dug in.  Phew!  This is a great weeknight dinner, and if you can't purchase guanciale in your supermarket, pancetta, which is readily available is an adequate substitute.

Pasta All'Amatriciana
Serves 6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 
4 ounces guanciale, cut into fine dice
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (I used a red onion for sweetness)
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley stems (see note)
pinch red pepper flakes (I like just a bit of heat)
2 cups tomato puree (I use Mutti brand passato)
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsely
1 pound buccatini, cooked 3 minutes short of al dente
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

In a large skillet, heat the oil, and cook the guanciale until it is crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes on medium high heat. 

Add the onion, red pepper and parsley stems, and saute until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes.  

Add the tomatoes, and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, until the sauce is thickened.

Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar, if needed.  Since tomatoes are acidic, a bit of sugar can temper the acid, and smooth out the sauce.  Add the parsley, and simmer another minute.  
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss until the pasta has absorbed the sauce.  
Serve the pasta immediately garnished with Parmigiano or Pecorino.  
Cook's Note:  Parsley stems will sometimes end up in your compost bin, but they are terrific to use when you are starting a sauce or soup.  Not only do they add flavor, they are what I call a neutralizer that can help to balance harsh flavors like garlic and onion.  I chop the stems and freeze them for use right out of the bag.  

Buon appetito!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Too Hot to be Outside

The outside temperature today in Spello is 33 degrees Celsius, which is about 96 degrees F.; way too hot to be outside, and so it's another day inside, getting settled, and looking for things to do.
On Thursday we went to the huge supermarket in Perugia called Hypercoop, and bought provisions.  I'd bought a box of peaches that looked promising, and since we hadn't eaten any, I thought I'd use them up, and turn on the oven---I mean what else do you do on a day when it's 96 degrees?
I've been experimenting with a crumble/pat in crust that I'm beginning to think is my new best friend, and it's worked beautifully in this recipe.  Although some of the peaches were soft, most were a little too hard, so I poached them in a bit of butter, with a tablespoon of sugar.
It never ceases to amaze me when we come to Italy that we do with a lot less here.  No Cuisinart, mixer, or other electrics, but I can still get the job done.  We are in a rental apartment without All-Clad pans, and state of the art gadgets, but going back to basics is what makes all of this a lot of fun, using all the skills I have to make something delicious.  Hoping to share this one with our Angelini family if they haven't melted from the heat.

Spello Peach Pie
Serves 6 to 8

6 medium to large peaches, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat the butter in a large skillet, and add the sugar.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the peaches, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the peaches begin to release some juice, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool while making the crust.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and coat the inside of a 9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Put the flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl, and cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, your fingers or a blending fork.  The ingredients should begin to come together like a crumble.

Add the egg, and continue to mix until the ingredients begin to come together.

Measure out half of the mixture and press into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Top with the peaches and their juices.

Crumble the reserved topping over the peaches.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crumble is golden brown and the peaches are bubbling.
Allow the pie to rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving with vanilla ice cream, or gelato.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


This is the town of Amatrice, which was devastated at 3:30 a.m. European Central Time.  So far 124 people are known dead, and there will be more, since they are having a hard time digging through the rubble to save those that are still alive.
The earthquake hit the central mountain areas of Umbria, Lazio and Le Marche.  Dr. C. and I spent last night in a hotel at the Rome airport; the earthquake woke me up out of a sound sleep; for those of us used to this in California, it felt like a shaker that went on for about 30 seconds.  There was no damage that was reported in Rome, and we headed for Spello (central Umbria) at 11:30---there was no damage that we saw along the way, and when we got to Spello (a medieval town) there was no damage that we could find.

 Our family's wine bar is fully functioning, without any damage, and the apartment that we are staying at is just fine.  The reason is that these buildings, although medieval, have had a seismic retrofit.  We have heard from friends that there hasn't been any damage of note, in the towns around here, Assisi, Todi and Orvieto.  There will be aftershocks, and that will be devastating to the areas that have been the hardest hit.
How can you help?  I'll update this page, but right now the best bet is donating to the Red Cross.  We aren't able to donate blood since we haven't donated here before and they need the blood immediately.  This weekend was going to be the celebration of the pasta that Amatrice is famous for, pasta all'Amatriciana.  I have no idea what will happen now, but pray for the people who have been affected by this tragedy.  I'll be back with an update here and on my Facebook page.  Until then ciao and buona notte.
Update:  Go to this link for ways to donate:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

'Merica, You Are Beautiful

Oftentimes, I think that we take our country and it's beauty for granted; I know I do.  Dr. C. has always wanted to go to Yellowstone, and so I decided we'd celebrate our anniversary by going to Yellowstone for 6 days.  I really didn't want to think on this trip, or do the driving around this vast National Park, so I did something I never do, and booked a tour; yes, that's right, this introvert was getting on a 40 passenger bus with 33 other strangers---I did it for love, since it was our 45th anniversary.  (If you are interested in doing this, click here for the website)
We flew into West Yosemite, Montana (check another state off the visit list) and shuttled into the park to the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, our first overnight stay.  The trip included everything, even gratuities.  We were assigned a tour guide, and driver, who took us out every day.  This park is so large that it would be impossible to see it all, but we hit all the highlights.  Our first day out, we visited Old Faithful (across the parking lot)  Old Faithful erupts every 90 minutes or so, and early in the morning the crowds are smaller.

After the eruption, we headed to the Grand Prismatic Spring.  It's a geyser basin with this incredible thermal spring. 
I didn't take this photo, since it's impossible to get an overhead shot. 

There is steam everywhere in Yellowstone, since you are walking on a super volcano.  We spent the days in the caldera.
This was our limo for the week
Day 2 had us out in the valleys, seeing Bison, and other animals. 

Not the most attractive animals in the world
A trip to Cooke City, Montana and there is a Hoosier Bar (not open)

Can't imagine what it is like in the winter, since there is still snow on the high elevations in August.

Beautiful waterfalls

Capturing a rainbow

Teddy Roosevelt loved Yellowstone, and camped somewhere near this place

Stagecoach ride; the kids on the top loved it!
The gate at Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

More thermal pools

Our last day, we were treated to a ride in these 1937 buses that have been refurbished; it was a blast!
What I loved most about this trip was getting to spend it with Dr. C, but I came away grateful to those visionaries who knew that this diverse wilderness area should be preserved for future generations. 
We covered all the high spots in the park, and had a great time.  We met people from all over the world, not only were they on our bus, but they worked in the restaurants, and hotels. Our weather couldn't have been better, in the mid to high 70's during the day and cooled down to the 40's at night. I highly recommend this trip: the wide open spaces, beautiful scenery and the opportunity to see an unspoiled wilderness were all highlights for us.  This year the National Park Service is celebrating it's 100th anniversary, and we should all celebrate the fact that these beautiful parks have been preserved for all to enjoy.