Italia 2018 – Part 1 – San Michele

I’ve spent the last few days visiting with friends Luca, Gloria, and Enrico in San Michele, Italy – not too far from Bologna and Modena. The district, Reggio Emilia, is famous for Ferrari and Pavarotti and balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, among other things.

I first met Luca and Gloria rather serendipitously online in 1999 when I was working in Bosnia and ICQ was the online chat programme that was popular then. We have seen each other several times in several places over those 19 years. I first met Enrico when he was 3 months old. Now look at him!

It’s always wonderful to spend time with them and to have the opportunity to experience Italy with my Italian family. Gracie, amici.

Here are a few photos of my time there.

Centre of Modena. The reflection in the pool of water caught my eye.

I always enjoy a hike up the hill behind San Michele for a “divine” view of the surrounding countryside and the town below.

The historic covered bridge, an icon in Pavia, near Milano.

The courtyard of the Castello Visconteo in Pavia

Downtown San Michele. Not a metropolis.

I revel all week in Gloria’s cooking. This is a ricotta and chocolate cheesecake/pie. Delizioso.

Easy supper – Pasta Genovese

I saw some fresh green beans on the market today and some new potatoes and it made me think of a pasta dish that my friend Gloria always serves me when I visit their family in Italy.   The Genovese word comes from Genoa, a city in northern Italy on the Mediterranean Sea where, probably, this recipe either originated or was adopted as local. There is another meat dish with the same name.  Don’t ask me how these two very different pastas have the same name.

There are variations on this but here is how I have ended up doing it.  A very simple meal, vegetarian, making use of fresh vegetables from the fall garden.

Pasta Genovese

Ingredients:

DSC03057New potatoes

Green beans

Pine nuts ( lightly toasted in the oven)

Fusili pasta ( I use this but I think that the recipe may be more “original” with a long thin pasta like spaghetti or tagliatelle.)

Pesto (I buy it ready made up and use about half a jar in the recipe. You can make your own from olive oil, pine nuts and basil if you are adventuresome.)

Parmesan cheese on top. (when I visit Gloria in Italy she always takes me to a local market where I can buy a huge hunk of aged Parmesan to bring home with me.)

Shopping for Parmesan at the San Michele grocer.

Shopping for Parmesan at the San Michele grocer.

Method:

DSC03060Prepare the potatoes and beans.  Scrub the potatoes and cut them into cubes, maybe one inch in size and cut the ends off the beans and slice them into smaller bits.

In a large pot add a tablespoon or so of sea salt to cold water.  Put the potatoes into the pot, cover it and bring it to a boil.  DSC03061Let it boil for a couple of minutes then add the green beans. Let them boil for three or four minutes then throw in the pasta and cook it for about 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is “al dente”.

Drain the lot and dump it into a large bowl.  Add half the DSC03062bottle of pesto and turn the ingredients in it until coated.

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Serve it onto a plate with grated parmesan cheese. (and a few tomatoes for colour.)

I don’t measure the ingredients, just throwing in a balanced lot.  Leftovers store well in the fridge and are even more tasty the second day when the pesto has leeched into the potatoes.

Thinking of you, Gloria, as I enjoy this treat.

The hills by San Michele, Italy

The hills by San Michele, Italy

A new Gelateria … in Sassuolo, Italy

I am fortunate to have friends in Italy that welcome me to their home when I want to visit. I forget between visits what a good cooks Gloria and her mother, Maria, are.

Last year's Easter dinner for me was Gloria's home-made tortellini.

Last year’s Easter dinner for me was Gloria’s home-made tortellini.

The meals are a tasty variety of home-made dishes combined with good company. How lucky I am to enjoy this when I visit these wonderful friends.

My first meal on the evening I arrived last spring was one of my favourites – Pasta Genovese. This is a combination of pipe rigate pasta cooked with green beans and little chunks if potato and coated with a home-made pesto (olive oil, basil, pine nuts). Gloria chooses whatever pasta she cooks to match the sauce and it is always done to perfection. (Yes, Sherri Robinson, I have promised you the recipe for this and I have not forgotten).

Lunch à la Gloria.  Minestrone with Parmesan, Crusts of Italian Bread and some home-made red wine.

Lunch à la Gloria. Minestrone with Parmesan, Crusts of Italian Bread and some home-made red wine.

In the morning I was greeted with some espresso coffee. Maria and Silvano (Gloria’s parents) had arrived before I awoke and brought with them some home-made ricotta cheese from the farm. I had brought some maple syrup from Canada and so our breakfast great was a little bowl of ricotta cheese drizzled with maple syrup. Cheesecake without the cake.

For lunch we had minestrone soup sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and torn pieces of Italian bread. This was followed by chunks of spare ribs with fresh strawberries ( in season here since late February) for dessert. All meals except the breakfast are accompanied by sloshes of home-made wine poured into juice glasses. The wine has a slight effervescence to it and makes a delightful pop when the cork is released.

My friend Antonio has opened a gelateria in Sassuolo, Italy.

My friend Antonio has opened a gelateria in Sassuolo, Italy.

 

We also always make a trip to a Pizzeria in Sassuolo run by Luca and Gloria’s friend, Antonio.  He keeps serving us up pizzas that he makes up as he goes along until we are full.  I always get something with truffles on it, my favourite.  Well, this weekend, Luca sent me a photo of Antonio in his new Gelateria.   Now, after pasta (and wine) my favourite indulgence in Italy is gelato. Nothing like it.   Now that Antonio has his own Gelateria, I look forward to my next visit…dessert after one of his spectacular pizzas!

 

“Treno kaput.” Now what?

I planned ahead. Train ticket bought. Researched the town of Aosta online. Arrived 15 minutes early at the station to be greeted by the conductor with “Treno kaput.”  I didn’t need a translator to understand that one.  Now what?

Three Italians waved their arms and yelled at each other to try to find me an alternative route.  They suggested I get on the train to Milan and change at Chevassa to take an electric train to somewhere close to Aosta. I thought of the Marx electric train I had as a kid. It wasn’t very big.  Time was short.  They all hustled me onto the train and it soon started moving. Unfortunately they had put me on the wrong train heading in the opposite direction.

Whistle stop at Chiomontre.

Whistle stop at Chiomonte.

There were no signs or announcements on the train. I had no idea where was going.  When the conductor arrived he spoke no English.  I tried to explain but he just looked at me like I was stupid (maybe I was) then wondered if it was Chiomonte where I was wanted to get off. It sounded vaguely similar so I said OK rather than provoke him further. He handed me a little paper on which was scribbled “Chiomonte 9:17”

When the train stopped briefly in Chiomonte I was the only one to disembark.  I soon understood why. The station was deserted. Doors locked. Ticket machine broken. No one in sight.  I really didn’t know where I was but it was certainly a beautiful setting. I considered just waiting for a train back to Torino, but I knew I was already heading into the Alps and I wanted to see the mountains.   An hour later a train arrived heading in the direction of the mountains.  I got on.

imageThe last stop as a little town called Bardonecchia.  It is the most westerly town in Italy and about 5 km from the French border.  In 2006 it hosted the snowboarding events for the Winter Olympics.

I meandered up the Main Street and at the end of it found a path that appeared to be heading up. I remembered an old slogan, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

imageFor the next two hours I headed up, and up, and up, until I was at the snow line in the mountains.  There was no one else around.  It was absolutely silent except a few birds chirping.  The air was fresh.  I lay down in the sun in a field of crocuses, thinking that if I had a heart attack and died there, no one would find me for a while.  But what a great place to go!  And obviously I did not succumb to the exertion.

imageThe day turned out to be a complete surprise and exactly the experience I had hoped to find in a day in the Alps.  My legs were tired and I welcomed a soak in the sauna in my hotel in Turin when I got back abound 6 o’clock.

 

Sometimes it is best just to go with the flow.

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Go fly a kite

April 25 is a national holiday in Italy commemorating the liberation of Italy from Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1945.

What better way to spend the day than to go to Pinarella, a little town on the Adriatic coast and join thousands if others on the beach to wade in the water, walk the beach and fly a kite?

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Photos -I had a very good Friday in Italy.

Enrico and Lilli  by the  Secchia River, San Michele, Italy.

Enrico and Lilli by the Secchia River, San Michele, Italy.

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For the past 14 years I have been friends with Luca and Gloria Tracendi who live in San Michele, Italy.  We have met many times in Italy, Canada, Florida and Barcelona.  I rocked their son Enrico when he was three months old.  We met serendipitously on an internet chat site in the very early internet days in the late 1990’s when I was working in Bosnia and have chatted online every couple of weeks since then. Enrico is now almost 13 and as tall as his Dad.   I enjoy visiting them from time to time and they make me feel very much at home. I now know the neighbours and family.  What a delight to have them as friends.  This week I am visiting them again at their home in San Michele. Yesterday Enrico and the dog Lilli and I did some wandering by the river and the hills around the village, appropriately ending up at the top of a big hill where a crucifix overlooked the village below.


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