italian

Cinzano Rosso Spritz

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Vermouth is having a moment. That’s what I’ve been saying for the last four years, but I’m reallllly feeling it right now. I mean, in Italy its moment started in 1757 in Turin with Casa Cinzano, and it never really let up! It’s just taken a bit longer for us to catch up in the States…

One of the reasons we’ve been slow to catch on is because we never really knew how to drink vermouth. Besides adding it as a required ingredient to a Manhattan or a Martini – people still didn’t know what its purpose was (bone dry Martini, anyone?) – vermouth was never a vital part of our drinking culture here. The modern cocktail revival then put a major spotlight on the Negroni – which is a third sweet vermouth…and people in the U.S. started to pay attention. But the real tragedy about vermouth that keeps people from using it regularly is that many of us still don’t know how to store it! Instead of collecting dust on your home bar or hidden away on some back shelf somewhere, vermouth MUST BE REFRIGERATED. I will never stop saying this in all caps. Until every one refrigerates their vermouth, that is. Think of it as wine. Because…it is! Well, it starts out as either red or white wine and then is “aromatized” with herbs and spices, and then fortified by adding a neutral spirit which increases its alcohol content and its shelf life. But because all vermouth must be made up of at least 75% wine, it is still prone to oxidization. Keep it cold, people.

Now that we know how to keep vermouth, let’s talk about how to use it…

I love wine and herbaceous things and Italian stuff, so I’m sort of a sucker for Italian vermouth and Cinzano is the OG. I was asked to create a cocktail for their upcoming Respect the Drink campaign, and was given a choice to use one of their Aperitif Classics. I love working with sweet vermouth in a cocktail, so the spicy, botanical forward Rosso was my pick. Dry or sweet vermouth is a wonderful addition to a drink for its depth of flavor. It can also be used as a primary ingredient in a low alcohol cocktail, which is what I’ve created in the Cinzano Rosso Spritz. Have I also mentioned that I love a spritz?!

Cinzano Rosso Spritz
2 oz Cinzano Rosso Vermouth
3-4 oz Sparkling Wine
1 oz Grapefruit Juice
Splash Soda Water
Garnish: Grapefruit Peel

Build drink in an ice-filled glass. Garnish.

Besides loving their vermouth, I’ve always adored the imagery in old Cinzano ads. This photoshoot was actually inspired by some of the graphics in Cinzano advertising over the years.


I also looked to its current logo. So clean, so graphic, so Italiano!

Try picking up a bottle of Cinzano Italian vermouth and play around with what you can make with it. Or just whip up the Cinzano Rosso Spritz. It’s a simple one and…questo cocktail è così buono!


This post was sponsored (and powered!) by Cinzano

The post Cinzano Rosso Spritz appeared first on Bit By a Fox.

Growing up Italian: The real Italian job

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There is a lagoon famous all over the world that attracts millions of tourists every year. There is a city built on sand that inspired movies, books and intriguing  love affairs. There is a port that made history worldwide. There are buildings that endured centuries, wars and domination. There is a unique culinary experience that accompanies it all.

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Landing at the Marco Polo airport in Venice gives me goosebumps, always!

 

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How my first morning in Venice usually looks like …

 

Venice is everything one would imagine, and then some.

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Vintage postcard from Venice

People often ask me, what is the best time to visit Venice? Every day is a great day in Venice I say!

In winter, the Serenissima ( aka Most Serene, a title given to the Republic of Venice) is often wrapped in mist. Like a shy girl, she shows  her real self only to a few selected friends. Away from the seasonal tourist crowds, Venice is mostly enjoyed by its residents.

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Venice at Midnight in December. Photo by my friend and Venician resident Stefano Minetto

Then, also in winter, there might be some snow. There is high water.The lagoon might freeze, and the scenery gets really surreal. Some of these weather conditions are not suited for carrying on the best everyday routine for the residents, but as a tourist …..it has its own unique appeal for sure!

Venezia, 01/12/2010 - Non c'è tregua per i veneziani, questa mattina, dopo una breve pausa è tornato il cattivo tempo con vento freddo e pioggia accompagnato dall'acqua alta.
High water in Piazza S. Marco (St Mark square)
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Ice in the Lagoon during the winter 2012
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Snow in Venice, a rare occurrence. Seen from the window of my friend Stefano’s apartment. Peaceful !

 

There are no cars in Venice. The ambulances, fire trucks, taxis, buses and even the funeral vehicles are substituted with boats. Other than that, Venitians walk everywhere!

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You recognize the logo..it’s not what Brown can do for you. Here is Mr. Blue :) delivering in Venice.
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Firetruck, in Venice.

There are a million bridges in Venice. Some are famous, some are not. Some are large, some are tiny. Each is unique and can lead to a magic corner of the city. I never travel with a map. I really enjoy getting lost and finding my way back through a different route. Venice is a treasure chest, with little trinkets scattered everywhere.

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On our way to the hotel, the Bridge of Sighs.

 

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Rialto bridge at 6am. The only time of the day when it’s not crowded by tourists and it can be seen like it really is: Majestic.

 

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Just another little bridge somewhere in Venice.

Then there is the bird that represents Venice the most: Pigeons! They are everywhere, comfortably living the lazy life, like a cat on its chair.

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Pigeons in St.Mark Square
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Local residents.

Summer is when Venice really comes alive. In July the city turns into a gigantic Tailgating party for the Festa del Redentore. The Redentore Festival is celebrated on the third Sunday of July, with a grandiose fireworks show on Saturday night as the main attraction. The Venetians take part in the spectacle of fireworks right from their boats, which are usually decorated with balloons, festoons and lights. Starting before sunset, the boats make their way to the Saint Mark’s Basin and to the Giudecca Canal. The waters sparkle with the reflection of boats and lights. On the boats, among song, dance and typical food, people wait for the fireworks that begin at 11.30 p.m. and go on for almost an hour. Along the banks thousands of people also wait for the fireworks at long tables set up for the occasion. I was fortunate enough to attend a few of these celebrations over the years, and I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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Italians do it better: it’s a party boat! Festa del Redentore 2010

 

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Sitting precariously in a tiny gondola, getting dusted by the ashes coming down from the fireworks. I remember taking this picture and shedding tears of happiness.
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Magic night for the lagoon that repeats itself only one day a year.

In September then, there is the Historical Regatta that re-enacts the one hosted in 1489 to commemorate the welcome to Caterina Cornaro,  the wife of the king of Cyprus who renounced to her throne in favor of Venice….now…do you blame her? :)

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Original reproductions of costumes and boats make the lagoon most colorful.
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St Mark Square night (foot) traffic

Then, for the night owls, Venice has a variety of al fresco dining experiences stretching as wide as your wallet allows it. Cafe’ Florian in St. Mark Square sells over-priced drinks with an unlimited view of one of the most beautiful squares in the world, and a string quartet that plays the soundtrack to an unforgettable Italian night.

The Islands! Yes, there are the famous islands in the lagoon. Burano and Torcello are my favorite, the last one off the beaten path.

Burano is charming, cozy and cheerful with its brightly colored homes. Tradition has it that the wives of the fisherman would paint the houses so bright they could be seen for miles, even in bad weather, by their husbands at sea.

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This color combination wouldn’t look this good anywhere else. Burano Island

 

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Fresh flowers, colors and religious symbols. Burano Island

 

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Bill and I in Burano 2012

If one stays clear of the “touristy” areas, Venice will surprise even the most discriminating traveler. Its people are friendly and the living is fun, just embrace the lagoon…

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Locals shopping at the “market” in the island of Murano.

As a foodie, Venice offers infinite opportunities to enjoy the traditional cuisine of the lagoon. Ernest Hemingway had his favorite fishmarket. It didn’t take long to understand why.

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Rialto Fish Market. Fresh fish, daily

Seafood is a key ingredient in the Venitian diet. It has been like this for centuries. Housewives go to the market daily to purchase the freshest elements for their meals. Same thing for the vegetables and fruit.

When in Venice every day is a “heyday” for me when it comes to food. A constant celebration of flavors, history and human creativity.

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Squid ink pasta (typical of Venice) with shellfish from the lagoon, and a Caprese Salad. Perfect lunch!

And then after the glorious summer, Venice goes back to her serene state again, coming to life briefly in February for its CARNEVALE (Carnival) when people crowd every single corner of the city in a joyful celebration. Magnificent costumes, artfully constructed, enhance the Most Serene city, if that is possible at all. Everyday life attire, coexist- for a day- with the pompous medieval fashion. Plumes, colors and paillettes bring sparkle to an otherwise grey town.

For a weekend in winter, Venice shines of its own light.

 

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Carnevale a Venezia
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Glorious crisp cold day in the lagoon

My friend Stefano, born and raised in Venice says: “There are no strangers, just friends whom you haven’t met, yet”.  This is the spirit of Venice. A city that has always embraced changes, adventures, colors, diversity, and mostly….love, in every aspect of living.

The recipe I’m enclosing today comes from Stefano’s wife, Paola. She is great cook, and she made this for me one warm summer night.

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My long time best friends Stefano and Paula. As Venetian as it gets!

It’s a ridiculously simple recipe, but so deliciously decadent. For those who believe that cheese and fish don’t mix…oh well, too bad, so sad.

Another reason to try this recipe.

This dish is rich, bold, vibrant and surprising. Just like a day in Venice. Enjoy!

[gn_box title=”PASTA CON TONNO (Paola’s tuna melt pasta)” color=”#AA0″]
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NOTE: since this is a very simple recipe, the quality of its ingredients is crucial. I use homemade butter or the best unsalted butter you can afford. Kerrygold is a good choice.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 400 gr pasta (Spaghetti are ok, or I like to use maccaroni)
  • 100 gr Tuna. ( Again, the best tuna you can buy. Home canned or in oil, not the one in water)
  • 3 anchovies
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a generous pinch of freshly chopped parsley
  • 3/4 stick of butter

DIRECTIONS:

With a fork, mesh the tuna, anchovies, and the butter to a paste.

If using fresh tuna, you can sear it and slice it. Then mix it lightly with the butter instead.

Cook the pasta according to the package direction.

Strain it and put back the noodles in the pan, coat the pasta with the butter and tuna, add some parsley and taste for salt.

I usually add a generous handful of grated cheddar cheese. My Italian family would not approve of it, I’m sure..but it tastes sooo good!

Dust with pepper before serving. Serve immediately.

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Until next time, Mangia, Enjoy, Ciao!

Growing up Italian: My citrus is running naked !

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For some, winter months can be really “boring” when it comes to fruit.

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The colors of winter

Growing up in Perugia, in the heart of Italy, we did not have any fruit other than the one Nature could provide on its own, without manipulation. That meant the usual Winter melons, Apples and Pears.

We had a Fuyu persimmon tree, however, growing in the back yard. Ohh how much I loved the Vanilla-ish flavors of this winter treasure! My dad would pick them, and then let them mature in the attic, on top of a blanket spread on the floor, until their skin was a little wrinkly and the pulp would come apart, so sweet and…mushy. Yeah, the persimmon’s texture is not for every palate. I adore them.

At Christmas, it was Mandarins time. I still have sense memories of the scent from the oil in the Mandarins’ zests while peeling them. A staple on Christmas day.

Then, there were Oranges: Sicilian Oranges, mostly Tarocchi or Blood oranges  were a constant on our winter table.

My dad’s favorite was a salad with shaved fennel, sectioned oranges, black olives, and a light olive oil dressing.

Of all the citruses, the skins were what made me the happiest.  To this day, all my citruses are running “naked” around the house.

I either zest them, and use their skins in various applications, or candy the goodness out of it.

Candied peels keep indefinitely in the freezer. I, however, never seem to have the problem of “left overs”.  They disappear faster than I can make them.

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Candied Texas Grapefruit peel.

 

Candied Meyer lemon peel is my latest obsession, but the classic orange zests can be turned into a popular “Creamcicle” treat. You can even doll it up a notch with the addition of some finishing salt or toasted nuts.

Whatever zest you choose, these sweet and tart snacks will make you a citrus believer.

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Candied Orange skin, White chocolate and Vanilla salt. Sweet and Salty meets Tart. Oh yes!

It must be an Italian “thing” this one of candying the zests, because my friend Lorella who is from Florence, shared her recipe with me. With the exception of the honey, my recipe is pretty much the same. Honey, however, adds an extra sticky gooey-ness that is quite irresistible.

The process is not complicated, just a little time consuming and requires your constant vigilance or it will go south.

So, here you have it! Vitamin C never tasted this good!!

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Ingredients:

  • 3 Organic Oranges
  • 1 C sugar, granulated
  • 1 C water
  • 1/4 C honey

Optional garnishes: finishing salt, chopped nuts

Directions:

Score the zest of the oranges in four sections. Peel the fruit leaving the 4 sections intact.

Now slice each section in vertical strips about 1/3″ wide

Place the strips in a pan and cover with cold water.

Bring the water to a boil, remove, strain the skins and rinse them with cold water.

Repeat the boiling step two more times, always starting with fresh cold water and always rinsing the zest so that the pith (the bitter part) will lose it’s bitterness.

Now bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar to a boil.

Add the honey and stir until dissolved. Add the zests that you have drained.

They will be noticeably softer than when you started.

Coat them with the syrup and keep cooking on low heat. It will take about 30 minutes before the syrup will be reduced and will have coated the zests. Stir often and  don’t leave the pan unattended.

Be careful not to brown the sugar or to caramelize the syrup. It will burn the zests that, in turn, will become too hard.

When there is no more syrup in the pan, with kitchen tongs, remove the peel and place it on a parchment paper to cool.

When it’s cool enough you can handle, place the sugar for coating in a bowl, and start tossing the strips with your hands.

The sugar will stick to the zest effortlessly. The skins are ready to dry overnight uncovered.

Oh, did I mention that they make a great addition to a cheese platter?

Or, you can incorporate some into your homemade fudge!

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Mangia, Enjoy!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My name is Rosa, and I have “a thing” for candied oranges :)

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Growing up Italian: How I Met My Brother From a Different Mother (Gemellino)

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In Italy we have a popular saying: You can’t pick your family members, but you can choose your friends. How exciting! I got to have a twin, who is not my brother, but who’s the bestest of friends. If you find this confusing, you are not the  only one. Here’s how it all happened.

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Fabrizio and I playing with some Christmas presents 1968

A warm day of September, 1966. A hospital room in Perugia Italy. My mom arrives in labor, I’m due anytime now. In Italy it’s customary to share the hospital bedroom with someone else. My mom’s roommate that day was “just” another woman, a perfect stranger.

She delivered an healthy boy-Fabrizio- the same day I was born, just a few hours apart.
This is how I met my new “twin” brother or Gemellino in Italian. Fabrizio and I never lost contact during all these years, our lives have been intertwined ever since, spanning through 2 continents and almost half a century.

We have spent holidays together,we attended the same high school (in the same classroom) and later in life we had rendezvous with our partners around the wold, wherever we could. It really sounds more exotic than what really is, but let’s start from the beginning.

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High school days. (revolving around food, of corse) I’m the first one on the right-front. Fabrizio first one on the left, sitting at the table.

Fabrizio and I are alike in many ways. So much that we can dance on each other’s last nerve pretty easily. He’s bright, practical,and matter of fact. Somewhat “crude” some could say. I’m never too sure if he’s serious of just kidding. (Either way, I never can’t stay  upset with him for long)
I’m all that, mitigated by a touch of flamboyance.

Now, we are also very different: he’s a computer genius, a nerd to the Nth power.
He goes crazy for anything with wires and buttons. Better if the latest version of the gadget.
I am a paper and pencil fanatic who reluctantly keeps up with technology, better with an old version of anything.

Fabrizio has always been lean and mean, while, since the beginning, I’ve been on the chubbier side.
The extra body mass had its own advantages growing up. I could bully him around!! Also, he always dressed “classic Italian”: muted colors. I tend to gravitate around BIG, bright, flashy colors.

Fabrizio likes winter sports, I’m happiest laying on a sunny beach. Opposites attract?
Fabrizio will always have a special place in my heart. One of those people I don’t have to see every minute to know he is there for me. I know he is. Since now we live 10,000 kilometers apart, getting together has become quite challenging. However, with careful planning, it’s possible. His extreme computer skills not only landed him a teaching job at the University at a very young age, it’s also taken him around the world for his consulting business.

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Meet up in San Francisco, 2011

So, we meet when we can. Both our mothers are gone, and our friendship is here to honor them. Two perfect strangers that created an outlasting bond and that manage to live through our memories for years to come. Fabrizio is forever a member of my family. A bond stronger than blood.

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Italian selfie! July 2008

Fabrizio is now happily married and has a son who’s as bright as he is. I call him “Junior”. Remember when I said we have a lot of things in common? Well, cooking in undoubtedly one of those. Unfortunately he doesn’t have time to cook as often as he would like, since he’s so busy traveling, but for me…he can make an exception.

Now, to the food: we both love a southern Italian pasta dish, Pasta ca’ Norma. He made it for me last time I was his guest and I’m sharing it, so that now you can make it as well. While you cook, think of your family, and all the friends who are now part of it ..and remember: Family is best when it’s chosen!

This Pasta dish has its origin in the Sicilian town of Catania.

The original name is: PASTA CA’ NORMA. In fact, it’s there that someone presented with such a dish, said: “This dish IS a NORMA”, comparing the sublimity of the pasta flavor to the famous Opera by Bellini. My version might not make you sing Soprano, but it just might  knock your socks off!

Until next time, Mangia, and Ciao!
Per Fabrizio TVB

[gn_box title=”PASTA ALLA NORMA” color=”#253″]

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 200 gr Ricotta cheese or Burrata shredded
  • 2 garlic cloves- grated
  • 12 leaves of basil
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • 400 gr pasta of your choice
  • 500 gr San Marzano tomatoes
  • Olive oil as needed
  • Frying oil
  • AP flour for frying

DIRECTION:

Thinly slice one eggplant, dice the other.

Sprinkle with salt and let “sweat” for about 1 hour in a colander. You will see the eggplants release dark water. It’s ok. Pat dry with a paper towel and coat lightly in flour. Fry in oil until golden brown set aside.

In a sauce pan, heat about 4 Tbs of oil with the garlic. When the garlic starts to brown, add the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar. Taste for salt.

Cook gently until the sauce has reduced and there is not more watery liquid.

Meanwhile cook you pasta al dente. Drain and toss into the sauce. Add the basil leaves. Coat the pasta with the sauce and the diced eggplants adding extra olive oil if necessary. Arrange on a plate over the eggplants slices. Top with burrata or grated ricotta salata.

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Eat immediately. Enjoy.
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Growing up Italian: The Frigidaire

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It never occurred to me, until later in life, that Frigidaire was just a name brand, and not the proper noun for the big, fat, boxy, noisy and shiny white appliance that sat in our kitchen corner for almost 30 years.

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Me and Mr Frigidaire in the kitchen corner: partners in “time-out”.

Mom could only call it Frigidaire. Why, I don’t know and never questioned it. I think that our subconscious minds wrote it off as some sort of exotic “pardonne moi caprice” from a woman who spoke fluent French.  Our Frigidaire moved into its corner spot in our kitchen the day my parents got married and for years I thought that it would never leave us. On a mechanical deathbed more than once, it always seemed to spring back into its chilling action in part due to the expert hands of our trusted electrician Guidone, in part due to the fact that appliances in the 60’s were meant to last longer than a decade. ( Including the pedal that would prompt the door open, like a modern trash can! )

Frigidaire served us well. It even survived a kitchen remodel. When its white and banged up exterior didn’t match the new kitchen walls anymore, my dad sandblasted it outside, under the car port,  and the cooling monster re-emerged from its own ashes like a Phoenix. Mustard yellow, eggshell finish with a wooden handle. What a treat!

Eventually Frigidaire died a natural death, and we got to upgrade to a Freezer-Refrigerator combo. Never again did my mother referred to it as Frigidaire. His new name became simply “Frigo”.

The end of an era.

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Me and Mr “Frigo” to the right.

Frigidaire and Frigo had totally different looks, but also some similarities. They both were pretty much the only large electrical appliance in the kitchen, since both the stove and the oven ran on gas. Oh… a gas oven! That deserves a story on its own.

Yes, we had a TV set. Black and White, of course,  until the early 80’s when we “splurged” on a Color TV with a remote control the size of Texas. We thought that THAT was the cat’s meow since we didn’t have to get up all the time to change channels. Mind that, at the time, our choices included only two Channels: Rai1 and Rai2! My mom would only turn the TV on at nighttime since during the day my sister and I were too busy playing outside in the summer months, or studying during the winter ones.

Dad purchased one of the first Cuisinarts for mom, who instantaneously proceeded to rename that as well. The food processor’s new acquired household name: “il Robot” (the robot) Mom didn’t like the even-steven uniformly sliced pieces of vegetables. She loved freestyle chopping, and she almost lost an index finger to it.

Other small appliances included an electric cheese grater. Italians, as one can imagine, have to have their Aged Parmigiano cheese freshly grated on a daily basis. Microwave? Of course not!! From brain cancer to impotency (for men only, oddly enough) the array of debilitating diseases attributed to the usage of this piece of appliance is endlessly fascinating.

The same goes for air conditioners. To this day, it is a rarity to find either a microwave or an air conditioner in older homes. The new generations are trying to figure out a way to coexist with them, unclear, though, on the future of their brains and testicles.

In 2003 Mom came to visit me in Eugene. She got totally taken by my microwave, enticed by its operational speed, but still not sure. She never used it.

After all, one can take a woman out of Italy, but Italy never leaves the woman.

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Hiking the Oregon dunes with Mom. Florence OR, summer 2003

Back to the Frigidaire.  Frigidaire came with the ancestral aluminum ice trays and a faint light that died long before Frigidaire did. What I remember the most about the interior was the spareness of it. Besides the usual staples: Milk, egg and a few vegetables, it was pathetically bare at all times. We used to say that Mom’s fridge looked like Ghandi’s. Always empty, yet it could magically feed an army at a last minute’s notice.

How?

Well, today’s recipe will explain it. It requires only a few ingredients, most of which are in your pantry right now, I bet. Also, they could be interchanged with the season. Zucchini could turn into Eggplant or Squash. The herbs we had in the garden, and if we were missing something, Corrado, who owned the only local grocery store, and Benito, the butcher, would let us kids pick up items on credit.

This sauce is the quintessential Umbrian sauce, since we are famous for our meat curing traditions, and Pork is something that has garnished our tables since before the Roman Empire. On our love affair with pork, I will devote another chapter.

Until then: Ciao! and Mangia!

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Tomato, sausage and zucchini sauce
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Serves 6

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, chopped small
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
3/4 – 1 pound good sausage, ground (NO fennel)
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 small to medium zucchini, grated and kept straining to release the water
4  tips fresh rosemary, each about 3″ long finely chopped
1 28 ounce can Italian tomatoes
salt to taste
1/2 cup cream

Shavings of nutmeg- optional

1 pound hearty pasta, such as penne rigate or rustic linguini
fresh-grated Pecorino cheese to garnish

In a medium skillet, pour the oil and add the butter. Let melt. Add the onion and garlic, and sautee until the onion gets little bits of brown caramelization being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add the sausage and mash into small bits. Cook at a medium/low heat until the exterior looses its raw, pink color and the sausage has released all its water. Deglaze  with wine, and raise the heat to medium.

Add the tomato paste and let it cook until it turns a dark purple color.

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When you add the tomatoes the zucchini and sausage will look like the picture above-left.

When the wine has mostly evaporated from the sausage mix, add the zucchini and rosemary and cook until the zucchini is soft.

Add the tomatoes and their juice, mash well, and cook until the liquid created by the zucchini and the tomato water condenses. Taste for salt and add if needed. The quantity will depend on how seasoned your sausage is. Let the sauce reduce to a thick one with no visible water or moisture. It could easily take 30 minutes to condense. Cooking requires patience.

Drink some wine!

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt so that when tasted (yes, you have to taste the pasta water) its flavor reminds you of the ocean water.

Remember, don’t be shy on salt. It’s the only way you get to salt the pasta from the inside-out.Besides, the noodles will only absorb a fraction of it.

Once all the liquids have evaporated from the sauce, add the heavy cream. The sauce now is done. Add salt and pepper if necessary.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, minus 2 minutes. (I.E. if the package says cook the pasta for 10 minutes, cook it for 8). The pasta will keep cooking while you coat it with the sauce, but won’t overcook and stay “al dente”. Do NOT rinse the pasta.

Place the tossed pasta in a large serving dish. Sprinkle the grated Pecorino  cheese on top and finally one could drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil on top too.

Eat immediately. Enjoy.

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Extra Virgin Olive oil and Italian Tomatoes. Italian Staples!

Growing up Italian – Rosa Mariotti

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A farmer’s life. Perugia, Italy, 1960.

Growing up in Umbria, the green region and heart of Italy, I had a pretty uneventful childhood. Or so I thought. I really never appreciated my origins until I detached myself from them. Things I took for granted growing up Italian, have now become treasured experiences. Flavors, smells and memories, are part of my repertoire of sensory recalls I hope never to lose.

But let’s start from the beginning. I was born as Rosalinda Mariotti, no middle names, in Perugia, Italy, in the 60’s. When one is born Italian, he/she is supposed to like coffee, wine and animal organs (in this order) as if it were part of the natural genetic patrimony. Just like Art or History! Therefore, like all Italians, I always had a natural fascination with food. Any food.

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Mom and Dad on their Engagement day. 1964.

My mom was a good cook, but my grandmothers were the greatest. Two different personalities: on my dad’s side, a more relaxed, easy going Nonna who cooked more out of obligation than pleasure; on my mom’s side, Nunzia the real food-police–perfection with each bite. As for many things in life, finding the good balance is key. Cooking is no exception, for sure. You could say I’m a late bloomer. I did not really discovered the real joy in cooking until I moved here, to Eugene in 1996 and started attending Lane Community College and its Hospitality Management Program.  Like Julia Child would say: Until then, I just ate.

Learning a new language has also given me a new soul. A NEW perspective on my OLD life. Being so far from my native land I have developed a new vision on traditional Italian food. The hardship of leaving my family behind came with an unexpected reward: the gift of getting to know myself. Someone once told me

“It’s only when you get really lost, that you can find yourself.”

So it goes for me—being totally alone in a foreign country, I found my passion, the key to my inner happiness and emotional balance.  It wasn’t were I had been looking all along: it wasn’t through fancy clothes or strolling on exotic beaches. It was through food. Simple, earthy, traditional food from my childhood cooked with love for the ones I care about.

One could say my family had the first SELFIE ever, in 1974. Trasimeno lake, Perugia. Italy. I’m the one on the bottom right.

Fast forward almost 20 years since the first time I landed in Eugene and I am finally the person I was meant to be all along. My life revolves around food and I’m happy. Cooking as a professional is more than a job: it’s a lifestyle: Physically demanding, stressful,  packed with adrenaline rush…not to mention the sugar high.

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Teaching in the Continuing Education Program at Lane Community College.

I can’t describe the soul-satisfying sensations that overcome me when I see the positive reactions of someone who just tasted my food. I couldn’t possibly attach a price tag to it. These days I manage a kitchen for a local school district where the emphasis is on child nutrition and serving healthy, local food, cooked with love. I also teach Traditional Italian cooking classes for Lane Community College, where I returned after almost 2 decades from my first graduation, and got a second degree in Baking and Pastry.

I embraced and learned to adore Eugene and its plethora of local, natural products and the producers who remind me of the ones I left in Umbria.

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“Life is a combination of PASTA and Magic” Federico Fellini, Italian Cinematographer.

My goal, with this column is to have you, the reader, feel what I felt growing up in Italy. I hope my recipes will allow you to taste what I tasted growing up so that you experience some of what I did.

My goal is to transmit the incredible gratitude and appreciation I have for the source of everything I eat, whether it comes from an animal or the hard labor of a farmer. Only then, will I feel that I’ve served this local community, while also making my parents  and grandparents really proud of the childhood, traditions and respect  for food they have given me.

Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!