Tagliatelle with Luca’s Mamma

ribbons of hand cut egg pasta

freshly cut tagliatelle

I haven’t taken an Italian class in over a month, but my teacher Luca and I still occasionally get together. It’s usually centered around food, culture or history, but mostly food.  Recently, Matt and I met him for dinner at Ristorante Nana.  This wasn’t your typical rustic Umbrian trattoria.  This was fancy-pants Italian:  raw fish layered and stacked with colorful, curly, green garnishes, black squid-ink pasta, vegetable foam, and a whole page devoted to creative dishes. For dessert we ordered “coffee and a cigarette” which was coffee gelato and tobacco-infused creme brûlée.

Several days later, Luca invited us to his parents’ home for dinner. He picked us up early so we could see how his mom makes fresh pasta.  His family lives outside Perugia in a charming, old farm house.  We entered through the kitchen which occupies the space where the previous owners (many years ago) housed livestock.  Now there is a fireplace on one wall, a wood-fired stove and oven against the other, a television in the corner, and most importantly, a work table used for rolling and cutting fresh pasta dough.  We met Luca’s parents, Mirella and Giulio, who gave us Italian kisses on the cheeks and then offered the boys chocolates.  It was all so warm and cozy, and I happily spent the next four hours dressed in an apron “helping” Mamma Mirella make dinner.

We started with tagliatelle.  This is a type of pasta that Mirella has been making by hand since she got married.  There are only two ingredients, eggs and flour.  We began by measuring.  For each egg, she uses 100 grams of flour.  She piled the flour on the table and made a well in the center.   Then she cracked open the orangest eggs I’ve ever seen.  “How in the world?!” I asked.  She said that the chickens eat really well over here.  Next, she beat them in a bowl then poured them into the flour.  Slowly with her fingers, she gently mixed it all together.

step one

step one

Luca, Guilio and Ray watch the demonstration.

Luca, Guilio and Ray watch the demonstration.

Once the flour and eggs were combined, the kneading began.  With the palms of her hands pushing the dough into itself over and over, the mixture became perfectly smooth and evenly yellow.  Once in a while, Mirella would add just a tiny bit of water if it felt dry.

The kneading took longer than I expected.  We took turns and after 15 minutes, it was ready to roll.

Mirella kneaded the pasta for at least 15 minutes.

The next step was to roll the dough into a thin sheet.  Again, this took some patience.  With a long rolling pin, we eventually succeeded in spreading it all the way to the corners of the cutting block.

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When our arms were exhausted, and the pasta was stretched so thin that it draped over the table, Mirella let it sit and dry out a little.  In half an hour it was ready to cut.  The sheet of pasta was folded over and over until it was about 3 inches wide. Each layer had a little flour sprinkled on top so it wouldn’t stick.  Then she sliced it all into thin strips less than a centimeter wide.  After all the tagliatelle was cut, Mirella shook the long strands out to separate them from each other.  Then she set the pasta aside until it was time to add it to the boiling water.

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Next we walked outside to the cantina where Luca’s parents store their canned foods and home-cured meats.  Giulio brought a prosciutto inside the house so he could prepare a platter of charcuterie for an appetizer.

Touring the cantina

Out in the cantina, Mirella filled a bag for me to take home with peaches, jam, hot peppers and pasta sauces.  To my surprise, she also gave me two pounds of tagliatelle that she had made the day before!

Giulio offered us slivers of proscuitto while he worked.

Giulio offered us slivers of proscuitto while he worked.

Several other guests arrived as Mirella and Giulio finished making dinner.  Earlier they had prepared a mixed grill including sausages, marinated pork ribs and pork livers wrapped in stomach lining.  We skewered them on iron stakes and set them in the fireplace where Giulio kept an eye on them while they cooked.  Finally, after Mirella boiled the pasta and tossed it with a tomato meat sauce, we sat down at the table for a feast.

The meats cook near the fire over hot coals.

The meats cook near the fire over hot coals.

The first course.

The first course.

Luca and Giulio serve the meat.

Luca and Giulio serve the meat.  Ray politely declined the barbecued liver.

We sat around the table until after 10 pm eating plates of food and drinking wine from the neighbor’s grapes.  It was unreal.  The whole day was an Italian fantasy.  I was so happy to wake up the next morning with a bag full of provisions from Mirella and Giulio sitting on my kitchen table.  We already used one jar of sauce and a pound of tagliatelle.  I’ll save the second batch for a special dinner since I don’t know if I will be making pasta by myself away from the magic of Mirella’s kitchen.

The Art of Cars (written by Oliver)

by guest blogger Oliver

Tom, Ray and me in Florence

Tom, Ray and me in Florence

Tonight is my last night with the Deasys here in Perugia.  My mom and I have been here for 10 days.  We landed in Rome and stayed in a room right next to the Pantheon.  I was pretty jet lagged that first day so I don’t remember much.  The next day, I got to choose where we’d go, and I decided we should see the Sistine Chapel.  It’s at the far end of the Vatican Museum so it was a super long walk.  We saw about 500 paintings and sculptures that day.  Just before we got to the end, we walked through a small gallery with some modern art and found a painting that looked just like my mom.

Even the other tourists around us were laughing.

Even the other tourists around us thought this was pretty funny.

Then we went to Florence and saw The David, climbed to the top of the Duomo, and crossed the Ponte Vecchio.  We also ate tons of gelato.  After two days, we took a train back to Perugia and have been here ever since.

We have seen many churches, museums, towers and old arches, but the best part about Italy is the cars!

Lately, I’ve been really into cars.  I read Dupont Registry  on the plane ride over and then when I got here, I saw some of my favorites in person.

The Fiat 500

One of the most popular cars in Italy is the Fiat 500.  The Fiat 500 is an affordable, four-cylinder car.  This car is popular because of its size.  It can fit through the small streets of Italy with ease.  This car gets good gas mileage, somewhere between 25 and 30 miles per gallon.  The final thing is that it is a little sporty, and you can make it look cool with a little work.  For everyday use, these are the best all-around cars.

The Fiat 500

The Fiat 500

The Ferrari

The Formula One Ferrari that I saw in Rome  has a 12-cylinder engine that pumps out speeds of over 200 mph.  It’s not just the big engine that makes it fast.  Most of it’s speed secrets lie in the aerodynamics and the material of the car.  It’s made of carbon fiber and aluminum.

We went to the Ferrari store in Rome.

We went to the Ferrari store in Rome.

The Maserati

This car is the most amazing car I’ve seen in Italy.  The Maserati Quattroporte is one of the first Maserati 4-doors (as its name states).  This is an 8-cylinder sedan coupe.  It is priced around $130,000.  This car is large and only gets around 15 miles per gallon, though, if you can buy this car then the gas money shouldn’t really be a problem.

We saw this Maserati near our hotel in Rome.

This was parked near our hotel in Rome.

The Fiat Punto

Yesterday I got to drive in a real Italian car when we took a day trip to Assisi.   We rented the Fiat Punto which is a cool, family style, sporty car equipped with manual transmission, like so many other cars in Italy.  It’s a medium-size car meant for five people, but we squeezed in six.   Also, I like the interior.  It has an easily accessable dash board and systems which make for comfortable, fast driving.  It was a good way to spend my last full day in Italy.

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I wish I could stay longer.  I told my mom and the Deasys that I would like to live here for the rest of the year with them.  I could eat hot chocolate and cream filled pastries every morning for breakfast.  Tom, Ray and I could all share a bedroom, and I could be in Tom’s class at school. I could even get a job here because Cristiano, the pasta man, taught me how to make cappelletti.  This has been a really fun trip.

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Looking back on all the things we did and all the cars I saw, I still think the best part was hanging out with Tom and Ray.

Looking back on all the things we did and all the cars I saw, I still think the best part was hanging out with Tom and Ray.

Candles

Today at Santi Aposoli

Today at Santi Apostoli

Six years ago, Luke died.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, he stopped breathing after an insidious bacterial infection took over his body.  On that day, we started lighting candles.  That little bit of light gave us something to look at.  Now every year on February 17th, we get together with friends; we talk about Luke; we miss Luke; and we always light candles.

We are lucky here in Italy because there are candles everywhere.  Every city has a hundred churches.  And every church has a corner where candles wait for a prayer.  We started our day in Florence with our great friends Kelli and Oliver, then tonight we will return to Perugia.  We will light candles along the way.

The Duomo in Florence

The Duomo in Florence

I don’t completely understand the allure, but I know it must be done.  I want to strike a match and say his name.  I want to leave a sign.  I want fire.  These candles are our little messages in the dark.  They are our mysterious, small, hot, dangerous intentions.  They are quiet testaments to our hope and our heartbreak. And today they are proof that while I may not believe in God, I believe in something stronger than myself.

Tall tapers in the church of Santi Apostoli in Piazza LImbo.  Matt came across this church.  It was the oldest church we visited, build sometime in the first millennium.

Tall tapers in the church of Santi Apostoli in Piazza Limbo. Matt came across this church. It was the oldest church we visited, built sometime in the first millennium.

Matt in Santo Spirito

Matt in Santo Spirito

Ray, Oliver, Tom and Kelli in  Santa Croce

Ray, Oliver, Tom and Kelli in Santa Croce

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Even though it’s still morning for all our friends and family back home, we have received so many emails.  They come with pictures of candles.  There are flames across the world for Luke:

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Fat Week

DSC_0177 Today is Fat Tuesday.   There is music and confetti in the streets; people dress up in masks and costumes; and the bakeries are full of fried desserts.  But it doesn’t last just one day.  This is the season of Carnevale.  The word comes from “carne” meaning “meat”  and “vale” meaning “allowed.”  It use to be that Catholics abstained from eating meat during Lent. Carnevale is the period before – where nothing is denied.

The big celebrations started nearly a week ago on Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) with parties and parades.  During the weekend, the festivities culminated as several neighborhoods decorated their streets, set up stages and hosted parties for the city that ran late into the night.

On Friday night, we walked down to Corso Cavour

On Friday, we walked to Corso Cavour where floats were lined up for a late night parade.  Vendors sold horns, confetti, silly string and masks.  There was music and dancing.

We have a group of friends in Perugia who invited us to their 5th-grade class party on Saturday.  All of their children attend the same school, and Signora Paola (our kids’ tutor) is the teacher.  The parents rented a room at the community center, and everyone brought food.  As students and parents entered, they were bombarded with handfuls of confetti by the others.

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Tom and Ray didn't want to dress up, but we privately gave them each 10 euros if they obliged, so that we would all fit in a little better.   Ray liked his pirate costume so much that he wore it to school today (for free).

At first, Tom and Ray didn’t want to dress up, but we privately gave them each 10 euros if they obliged.  They thought that sounded like “bad parenting.”  We agreed, but it was worth it. Ray liked his pirate costume so much that he wore it to school today (for free).

We paid Tom an extra euro to wear the wig.

We paid Tom an extra two euros to wear the wig.

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For the first couple hours we talked, listened to music, ate platters and platters of food, drank pop and watched the kids dance.  Later in the evening, the parents brought out a karaoke machine.  DSC_0188

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The next day there were parades throughout the city.  We could watch from the window of our apartment, but it was more fun to be in the middle of it all. DSC_0108

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This morning we bought a little of everything, just in case sweets grow scarse during Lent.  Some of the traditional Carnevale desserts include frappe, brighelle and strufoli.

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Chow (written by Matt)

by guest blogger Matt

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Oh no. My to-do list is down to the two items that are always at the bottom: writing about Italy and learning Italian.  In July and August I avoided these chores by setting up our apartment, adjusting to our new life, dressing like an Italian and traveling around Italy.  September, October and November brought school for the kids, learning to cook, biking, practicing golf and planning weekend trips.  December brought welcomed guests, the holiday and an extended trip to northern Italy.  January meant completing the year-end accounting duties I agreed to handle at work.  Now it’s February.  I have no more excuses.  So here I am.  Writing.  And I’m also learning Italian.

You would think I would want to learn Italian.  For six months, the majority of my conversations are with Jill, Tom, and Ray.   That’s it.  Outside of those conversations, I am limited to small talk.  Actually small talk is generous; I am really limited to salutations.  “Hi.  How are you?  It’s cold.  Can I have a double espresso?  I mean one espresso but with two espresso shots in it.  Put it in just one cup, please.  Thank you.  That is a beautiful espresso.  Thank you again.  Goodbye.”

I finally decided to take an Italian class – a one-week intensive course.   There were only two students in the class, me and Erwin from the Netherlands.   Every word, including all the directions, was in Italian.   The first night, the teacher gave us a long homework assignment.  He told us to conjugate 30 verbs.  It took me two hours.  The next day he was really impressed.  He had only really asked me to list 30 verbs.  Well, after five days, I was ready for a break.  The lessons helped, but I have a long way to go.  Case in point:  when I stopped by the dry cleaners, I dropped off my pants and mentioned Jill would be dropping off some more clothes that afternoon.  Things happened, and Jill did not make it that day.  Several days later, we went back together.  When they saw Jill, they looked surprised.  They said something to Jill.  She gave me a funny look and asked why I told them we weren’t married anymore.

Another misunderstanding happened earlier this year.  On my bike route to the golf course, there is a bar that has the same name as a friend back home.  I thought it would be nice to send her a picture of me in front of the bar.  So I found a customer, and in my best Italian asked if he would take my picture.  He agreed.   However, instead of accepting the camera from me, he walked underneath the sign and posed.  When I realized that he thought I wanted a picture of him, I was too embarrassed to attempt to sort it out.  So I took his picture.  It’s a beauty.

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Fortunately, the weather looked good this week so I bagged the idea of another week of Italian classes.  Instead, on Monday, I grabbed my bike and headed out to the golf course.  I didn’t make it far.  Just about the time I reached the first busy piazza, the sack with my clean golf clothes got caught in the spokes and immediately stopped my front wheel.  It sent me flying over the handlebars and flat into the cobblestones.  I sprained my wrist and bruised a rib.  The bike broke.  And that put an end to golfing or biking for the week.  Instead I’m sitting on the couch eating Advil and searching webmd.com for home treatments.

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We just passed the half-way mark of my sabbatical.   Great revelations have not yet found me.  However, I do know that being surrounded by over 2,000 years of human history has me feeling insignificant.  At first this seemed negative, but the more I consider it, the more freeing it becomes.  My logic is, if I don’t matter, then what I do doesn’t matter; and if what I do doesn’t matter, then I should do something I enjoy; and if I am doing something I enjoy, I should do it as well as I can.  Since I really enjoy my current work and my family and my friends and the activities I do in my free time, this only reaffirms that I’m on the right track.

Putting it into perspective -  visit to the Monumental Cemetery.

Putting it into perspective – a visit to Perugia’s Monument Cemetery.

And while we’ve tried to assimilate as best we can to the Italian culture, I’m not sure how I can incorporate this lifestyle into my routine back home.  It is different over here.  There is no hurry; everything takes a long time and everything is done with care and with enjoyment. I experience this from the shop owners in the stores we frequent.  The owners are the primary workers, and they work long hours.  They take pride in the products they have chosen.  And even though they close for three hours every afternoon, it’s with good reason.  It’s to have a nice big lunch with their family.  Food and family – the two most evident cultural values.  The consumer and business person in me hates it.  However, my soul loves it.  It is inconvenient, but the statement of value is inspiring.   And it is not inconvenient to an Italian who couldn’t imagine it any other way.

They say that with pain and discomfort comes growth. I keep reminding myself of this as I bumble through the awkwardness of basic communication, the embarrassments of my cultural incompetence, and the humbling need to be dependent on others.  Yes, I think one year is plenty of time for this kind of exposure.  At the same time, I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about leaving.  There is so much I still want to see and experience here, and there is so much I will miss when we are gone.  I will miss two long meals a day with Jill, Tom and Ray; grocery shopping and cooking with Jill; long afternoons playing cards with the boys; weekend adventures in medieval Italian towns that are within a hour’s drive; having everything I want within walking distance; the constant architectural sites around every corner; and of course the coffee and food.  While I’ve been trying to reflect on the impact of this year and what it might mean to my life, it’s possible that the real impacts of my sabbatical won’t be known until I return home.

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The Crisis and other Conversations

There are four topics that come up with nearly every Perugian we meet.

First there is the saltless bread, which I’ve mentioned before. During the Middle Ages, the popes staged a long and repressive reign over Perugia.  One of the many injustices was the exorbitant tax on salt.  So the Perugians just stopped using it, and to this day they don’t salt their bread.  Friends talk about it, tour guides note it, language teachers discuss it, and every summer, Perugia stages a production of The Salt War, a play which reenacts the events of the mid 1500s.

The cheerless underground city which was buried after the Perugians refused to pay the salt tax.

Pope Paul III’s army destroyed the wealthy sector of Perugia as punishment for the town’s insubordination.  This broody corridor is part of what is now referred to as the underground city.

They also talk about how dramatically their city has changed in the last 10 years.  They speak nostalgically of the past:  “The streets use to be full every night.  And on Saturday, you could hardly walk because it was so crowded.  Back then, we all lived in the historic center, but now it’s practically empty; everyone has moved to the outskirts.”  Having little to compare it to, we are always enchanted with the beauty and vibrancy of Perugia.  It’s charming. There are lots of Italians.  To me, Perugia feels authentic and alive.  But every time I share my feelings, the Perugians shake their heads and insist that in its day, this was once a fabled city; one of Italy’s best.

Then of course, everyone talks about the infamous murder of 2009.

The courthouse is just around the corner from our apartment.

The courthouse where the trials were held is just around the corner from our apartment.

And finally, they talk about la crisi, (the crisis) . . . Italy’s financial situation.  Some say it started as early as the 1980s when Italian companies began outsourcing the production of their famously well-made, high quality goods to China, Bangladesh, and India.  The subsequent loss of Italian jobs and the obvious downward spiral of “having less money/needing cheaper goods” is just one factor.  Others say la crisi is a result of the mafia and the corrupt government.  They point to the lying, cheating, stealing, sneaky politicians who make headlines but should really just be in jail. Even though new elections are scheduled for the end of February, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for change. We heard someone say that what Italy needs is to be CONQUERED.  There’s also the problem of taxes.  These days, Italians pay half of their income to Uncle Spaghetti.  And they explain that most of that money finds its way into the hands of the aforementioned politicians.  Finally, things really started to sink low for Italy after the global financial crisis of 2008 and the European debt crisis of 2011.

As visitors here in Perugia, we see (or hear about) the effects of la crisi.  Almost every family needs two incomes to support themselves.  Some teachers’ salaries have been frozen for seven years.  College graduates cannot find jobs. Family-run businesses are being replaced by sterile chain stores.  And two of our neighbors, both popular restaurants in the city, closed since we arrived.  It’s a challenge for guidebooks to keep current with what is recommended and what is still in business.

Gus:  This restaurant was featured in the NY Times last spring

Gus: This restaurant was featured in the NY Times last spring

But even amidst their troubling financial problems, Italians continue to dress spectacularly.  And compromises are never made when it comes to wine, food and coffee.

Two weeks ago we were taking a walk from our apartment down Via Alessi, and Matt pointed out a cafe that we had never noticed before.  We stopped in for an espresso and tried a little pastry.  We were impressed. This place was incredible. When we asked how long they’ve been here, they said the shop is brand new.  We commented on how rare it is to find a new cafe when so many are closing.  They agreed but are hoping to help revive this once busy part of town.  Since we first set foot inside, we’ve been here every day.  And each time, it fills up more and more.  It’s like a little celebration inside.

The owners, Benito and Pietro d'Andrea, are originally from Salerno.  They specialize in Campagna pastries and coffee from Naples.

The owners, brothers Benito and Pietro d’Andrea, are originally from Salerno. They specialize in Campagna pastries and coffee from Naples.

Signor Pietro mades cannoli downstairs in the kitchen.

Signor Pietro makes cannoli downstairs in the kitchen.

This is Anna who makes the coffee and explains the finer points between each pastry.

This is Anna who makes the coffee and serves pastries.

We’ve heard it said that despite the problems, Italy enjoys a high standards of living.  It’s evident.  Even with debt, unemployment and a bleak political future, Italians know how to create a beautiful, if brief, moment.  This is inspiring.  They take time for pleasure.  They respect daily traditions. Changing the system might be overwhelming, but they still exert control over the finer points of life.  And while they tolerate corruption, they don’t tolerate bad coffee.