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Growing up Italian: Two weddings and….one crushed!

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When one gets married, in Italy, one is willing to grow deeper roots. I, on the other hand, always wanted to grow wings- for as long as I can remember.

My parents got married in 1965, and accordingly with the Italian family-planning program, I was born almost a year later, to the day. Now, that requires some serious math skills!

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Sept.5th, 1965 Mom and Dad getting married

My dad never boarded a plane, neither has my sister. Fear of flying.  I wonder how can you fear something you have never tried? Mom was the dynamic and curious one of the couple. She even managed a quick trip to Eugene, to visit me just before she got diagnosed with cancer. She never allowed her fears to be bigger than her dreams. I try to do the same.

My parents honeymooned in Capri. After that, they had my sister and me within 3 years of getting married, so they didn’t have much disposable income to devote to luxury trips.

We always went to the Adriatic coast of Italy. Every summer, for many decades. Sometimes, though, a wedding would get into the way of our vacation.

Summer seems to be a premium season for getting married in Italy, or maybe everywhere.

As a little girl, I sure remember PLENTY of booooring weddings. Tightly squeezed into socks and shoes and a too-pretty-to-go-play-outside-dress. Sitting in church for hours, not to mention those looooong wedding receptions…

In the eyes of a child who wants to go out and play, those were not good days. I endured them, all with good table manners and behavior to match because my parents would not have tolerated otherwise.

One summer wedding though, really stuck with me. A series of enjoyable events turned another booooring wedding into a memorable one.

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Castellano’s wedding. Vanese little Church. Early 70’s. Me, my sister behind me and my Dad with an old super 8 camera ready to roll.

That hot summer day, I didn’t care about being squeezed into pristine stiff white cotton socks. I got to wear a silk dress! The cream and black polka dot dress was “retrofitted” from my mom’s dress by our clever seamstress Ivana. She even got me some stylish ruffles on the sleeves, and the buttons were on the back. The dress was so smooth that I couldn’t stop touching it or smoothing its skirt. It was what nowadays one would call a “hand-me-down”. Back then was just a NEW dress, or at least new TO me.

The other circumstance that corresponded to this being an epic wedding, was the fact that the church chosen for the event was the size of a studio apartment. Seriously. Only the Priest, the Groom, the Bride and their parents could fit inside.

That meant that all of us guests had to stand outside, under the shade of some old pines and listen to the ceremony through a makeshift audio system.

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At Dario Cecchini’s Officina della Bistecca 2010

That implied that I didn’t have to sit in church for hours! We were captive audience, but we could walk around and play-quietly-with other children. Score!

Also, the wedding reception was held in the unfinished basement of the couple’s future home. No restaurant food, just good old family-style reception. One didn’t have to worry so much about “la bella figura” or being judged for being silly or loud.

That day was fun. That’s how all the weddings should be-in the eyes of a child.

As an adult, I promised myself that the next wedding I would attend to, would be mine.

Well, I should have been more careful and put a deadline to it. I haven’t gone to a wedding in over 10 years. Actually, I did, but nobody knows that……I crashed it!!

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Pamela and me. Dionigi winery, Umbria 2009

My long time friend Pamela lives in Italy. She is a hoot! She can find her way out of pretty much any situation. She also can just as easily find her way into any situation. So she does.

Prior to my trips to Italy, all I have to do is just mention to Pamela that I would like to do something, and she delivers. Like the summer of 2010 when she managed to get a last-minute reservation at Dario Cecchini’s in Panzano. The best family-style, communal table-dinner served by the most famous butcher in the world.  Pamela is my personal concierge in Italy, you could say. But wait, it gets better!

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Dionigi winery produces superb products. Oh yes!

Summer 2009. I talked about wanting to do a wine tasting. “Sure” she said. “let’s go for some Sagrantino”.

Wine connoisseurs will agree with me that the Montefalco Sagrantino is one of the best wines of Italy.

In the car, on our way there, she mentioned that the “cantina” (cellar) was closed for the day due to a wedding happening at the location. Without blinking, she added: “don’t worry, the cantina is open to the guests”.

So guests we became. Underdressed, a little sweaty from the car ride, Pamela never lost a beat. I was overwhelmed with embarrassment, but I followed her svelte silhouette through the crowd. Nobody seemed to mind us.

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The label on the Sagrantino Barrel

Here we are, in the heart of the winery, down in the cellar. Nobody else is there.

Pamela navigates the cellar with ease, explaining the different wines to me while someone from the winery approaches us. “Oh oh, we are in trouble” I think.

Instead, Pamela, without loosing her cool, explains that she is a guest of the Groom and she would like to taste the wines.

“Sure” the gentleman says. So, here we are, illegal wedding guests, taking a sip of the most amazing nectar one can imagine in the quietness of a cellar. We even got to taste the prestigious Sagrantino Passito wine.  Told you, Pamela  can get her way into anything!

Now…how do we get out? Most of the guest have arrived and the reception is in full swing.

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Snails cured with mint and stuffed with herbs, then BBQ’d.

While we are walking back to the car, it’s dusk outside, and some communal table have been set up to display the various dished. Porchetta, desserts, and there is also a huge  pit where they are roasting snails!

There is no stopping Pamela now: “Are you hungry? Let’s eat”.

Before I could say anything she is already in line to get herself a portion of snails cured in mint and BBQ’d. Delicious, I must say.

Well, since we are eating, I go for the Porchetta, and some petite fours, because I like desserts..you know…

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Porchetta is the real deal here!

Nobody paid any attention to us, we actually had a really good time and I can’t remember if Pamela managed to take a picture of two with the Bride and Groom as well.

Maybe the wine, maybe the heat, my recollections stops with the fireworks into the night.

It’s always special when the best memories come from  something totally unexpected.

Italian eat a lot at weddings.  It’s not usual for the food to be so “casual”. We often have more refined and elegant dishes. As a child I remember  having a choice of pasta: fettuccine, spaghetti..and more often than not a “mari e monti” version. That would be the equivalent of a Surf and Turf here.

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Pamela’s fun car.

A combination of seafood and mushrooms that makes everybody happy. Just recently I was gifted a serious piece of salmon and some mushrooms.

While I don’t have a wedding planned in the near future, but I plan to attend one in June, I couldn’t stop thinking of how food brings people and strangers together: whether to honor two people who marry to grow deeper roots and plant a family seed, or just friends who celebrate life and enjoy the process.

Meanwhile, I wonder what Pamela has planned for me next time I see her!

Can’t wait to find out, and I’ll sure to keep you posted.

Until next time, Mangia, and enjoy!!

[gn_box title=”LASAGNA MARI E MONTI  (Surf and Turf lasagna)” color=”#253″]
DSCF4407 Lasagna Surf and Turf

Finish the lasagna dish with a layer of Mushrooms and Salmon mix.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes of ready Lasagna sheets
  • 10oz Salmon filet-skin removed and diced
  • 1 fresh mozzarella (about 8 oz)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 lb of fresh mushooms-diced
  • 2T butter and 2 T olive oil
  • 1 large cloves of garlic
  • BECHAMEL sauce:
  • 2 1/2 C milk-warm
  • 4 T butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1/4 C white wine

Chopped parsley and Parmigiano cheese to garnish

Directions:

Pre heat a skillet and melt 2 Tbs of butter and 2 Tbs of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and sear them on medium heat. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until soft but not watery. Set aside.

To make the Bechamel: Melt the butter and add the flour. When the roux is done and a white-ish patina appears, add the milk. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Keep stirring until the sauce gets thicker and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside.

In the same skillet you used for the mushrooms, add the onions, and a splash of olive oil.

Sautee until it starts to lightly brown, deglaze with wine.

Add the salmon, a grated clove of garlic and cover with a lid.  When the salmon is done,fold it into the bechamel sauce. Add the mushrooms to the mix.

Using a 9×13 dish , smear the bottom of the dish with some of the salmon mix.

Make a layer of lasagna noodles, top with bechamelle.

Another layer of lasagna noodle topped with mozzarella. Repeat alternating noodles and salmon mix until all is used up and finish with a layer of salmon and mushrooms.

Bake at 350F for about 20 min covered with foil, then another 20 uncovered until lightly crisp and brown.
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