madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


23 Comments

how I got to be on TV

If you see where I live, atop a magical mountain in a rural area of Italy, you will find it quite surprising that anyone finds me at all.  And it’s probabaly even more surprising that myself and my family can make a living with our B&B and cooking classes. Mysteries of the internet, most likely.

Indeed, after having scrutinized my website statistics for years, I still have no idea how people ever gets to know about us.

Take last August, for example. I was in the car in front of a hardware shop waiting for my husband. He spends 50% of his time in the hardware shop. It was hot and I wanted to go home.

Then my cellphone rang. At the other side of the line someone with a velvety voice said “I am a TV film director”. And “we want to come next week to film one of your cooking classes for a BBC program”. Suddenly I did not feel that hot, but my head was spinning. No, I don’t often get phone calls from TV people.

A few days later I was walking in Santa Maria degli Angeli with a couple of newly wed Scottish people, Ruth and Stuart. Under the bright August sun, I was trying to tell them that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Umbria, and that I can have lots of great food here.

Right, easy peasy, this is my stuff, isn’t it?

In front of me a young crew of BBC TV people – headed by handsome John Bonny – was trying to convince me to stop hitting the microphone and to walk slowly without looking in the camera which was almost attached to my nose. Easily said than done: nr. 1 I am Italian and I talk with my hands, nr. 2 all the village people was looking at me walking with a TV crew. Try to concentrate on the camera when your butcher is watching.

escape to the continent Umbria01

Hot and clumsy and weird, my TV day went on. Do you know they put a furry microphone virtually in your bra? It did take me a while to get acquainted with the microphones.

We had to go into my friend’s Barbara shop to buy prosciutto and pecorino. That took about one hour because we never said the right thing about the pecorino and we had to repeat. Beautiful John had not given us a script.

escape to the continent1

Then we proceeded to my house to cook. We made stringozzi with a Norcina sauce. The original recipe only uses one egg, but we went through a whole box because we were not capable to break it in the right way. I was terrified we would run out of eggs. Until this very day I am not sure what’s the best way to break an egg for the camera.

escape to the continent Umbria07

Ruth and Stuart had moved house the day before, then they had jumped on a plane at 4:00 a.m. to come to Italy. We had been filming in the sun for several hours. No wonder we were starting to falter. Notwithstanding our clumsiness, John, his delightful assistant Bella and the rest of the crew stayed kind and smiling until the end. Only then I realized how difficult it must be to work with people who has no idea how to behave in front of a camera.escape to the continent Umbria11

Finally, we did manage. The pasta was cooked, stirred in the sauce, blanketed with truffle shavings. escape to the continent Umbria14

The best part – and it’s a pity it’s not on screen – was to see everybody’s eyes becoming soft because of the heavenly smell. It was way past dinner time. You could almost hear them salivating. Everybody relaxed. We shared a few forkfuls of pasta, they packed the cameras and left, leaving us with 5 failed pasta doughs and a few more stringozzi to cook.

escape to the continent Umbria17

Ruth and Stuart with my helper Maria who took care of the failed pasta doughs

And guess what? I asked John how he found out about me, and he said “on the internet”.

Of course. I shouldn’t have asked.

If one sits at the top of a mountain, someone, sometimes, will pass by.

 

PS. the program is named Escape to the Continent (Umbria), if you can’t access the link here, you might be able to  see it on BBC i-player or just google “Escape to the continent Umbria”. You can see me from approx min. 24

 

 

 

 

 


11 Comments

if only she knew….

we are still at the crumble stage

Weeks ago I received an email from a woman stating the following:

“we considered staying at your B&B for our holidays but we have read on your blog that you are planning to renovate the new part of the house and we are afraid the works will disturb us during our stay”.

Indeed last May, after a decade of painstaking negotiations and worries, we have fulfilled our dream and bought the second half of our farmhouse. The story is here.

Cara signora (dear lady), I hope you are reading this. Because I want to ask you why you take from me the time which I need to read your message. Then  you take the time I need to reply that of course we would not dream to do any works which could disturb our guests during season. We have a B&B we quite some reputation, so why should we do something so damaging.

And then you don’t even bother to reply because you have already decided that you will not be staying here.

Cara signora I know why you have written this message. You live on a planet where – when you want a house –  you ask your neighbor kindly if he wants to sell it. If he does, after a week all the papers are signed and the house is yours.

The next week you have your plans and you go to one or another public office and ask them kindly if they give you permissions to move a couple of walls, install, new windows, photovoltaic solar panels and a modern, low consumption biomass heater. “A wonderful project!” – they will say – and give you full support.

Say all the above has taken you a month. Then you get immediately all the construction companies and technical consultancy necessary to actually implement the project, order the materials and put up the scaffolding. immediately afterwards the builders speed in and start  hammering making all that horrible noise.

trying to find an opening

Cara signora, can you please tell me on which planet you live? Because I want to move to this place where is possible to buy a house in May and start to the actual renovation work in September. And may be even complete it by Christmas.

I live in Italy.

It’s been 5 busy months and we haven’t even managed to put together all the crazy paperwork necessary for the solar panels  on the roof. The rest of the renovation has to be presented at a later time because it needs even more crazy paperwork.

A couple of days ago, a public officer has announced that after all the documents prepared, we might not be able to install the photovoltaic panels on the roof where they would hardly be visible.

The local government prefers for us to install the panels on our beautiful fields, where they will take up much more space, be visible from very far and disrupt our magnificent view. He said that we have to hide the panels behind a 6 ft tall fence surrounded by tall trees.

Shaded solar panels. Ingenious.

Besides, as we are at the top of a hill on sloping grounds the fence would not hide the panels from view. In contrast, it would only increase the horrendous visual effect of the whole construction.

see the flock of sheep? There's where they want the industrial looking installation

Cara signora, if you would only know how difficult it is to realize a project here, you would not even consider coming over  for holidays.

Please give me the address of your world and I might start packing before it’s too late.


95 Comments

it’s finally my turn: I own a castle and I will even have an office

our new (old) house, the castle of my dreams

Today it’s a turning point in my life. I have been waiting for this since 26 December 1996. On that day Ruurd, my husband, and I walked to the top of our beautiful hill in the snow.

Here we fell in love with the incredible views of Assisi and the surrounding countryside. Despite the dilapidated aspect of the house, we bought it against the judgment of family and friends who thought we were not a little mad.

It took us 5 years of hard work and worries to move here and start Alla Madonna del Piatto B&B and cooking school.

see my house against the splendid greenery? it's the light colored half of the building on the left. Now we own the brown part on the right as well.


Ours was the bigger half of a very large farmhouse.The rest was owned by someone who did not do much with it except keeping it quite messy.

Of course, from day one, we started to dream the impossible dream, buying the other half and have our island of peace all to ourselves.

For 10 years we have lived here and worked hard to make Alla Madonna del Piatto a dream for us and for our guests.

Meanwhile a lot has happened, good and bad.  Today we have finally managed, we have signed the contract, the other half of the house is ours.

a road side view of the new house. Note the lovely garden decoration.

The house is in reasonable conditions, better than the first half we bought back in 1997, it will however need quite a bit of renovation.

This will hopefully result in one or two holiday apartments, a new and larger cooking school and finally, finally, finally an office for myself! Wow, I haven’t had an office for 10 years. It’s maybe time.

new house garden, well, after "some" pruning.

Today I feel like a princess. I own my castle. Tonight I’ll have a good sleep.


14 Comments

liquore di rose

delicate wild rose petals

ROSE LIQUEUR
In my previous life I used to trap smells. As a profession.

I used to collected the elusive aroma of plants with complicated glass vessels and solvent washes. I  used the resulting extracts to test their behavior modifying effects.

Capturing scents is science and art at the same time. A scent has to be collected at the right time  which can be based on season, time of the day or developmental stage of plant or animal. Scents come in very tiny amount and if badly handled will turn bad or disappear altogether.

Even the definition of the word perfume (a pleasant scent) is evanescent. From the Latin “per fumus” it means through smoke.

So it is that every spring I make a few walks with my daughter Tea to pick wild rose petals. Umbria is covered in wild flowers right now.

Rose essential oil (attar) is still the most widely used ingredient in perfumery. Hindus  produced it as early as the 7th century AD. Tea likes the perfume on butter and bread. I only get help to pick if I use the harvest to make rose marmalade.

Only then I am allowed to use some of the bounty to make one bottle of rose liqueur. It’s delicate and subtly sweet.  I keep it for a few months to mellow and age. When opened – generally in the fall –  it’s quickly gone, it tastes like the perfume of spring.

Recipe

  • 100 gr / 3.5 oz wild rose petals
  • 500 ml / 2 cups 95 % alcohol or very strong vodka
  • 400 gr / 2 cups sugar
  • 500 ml / 2 cups of water

Clean up the petals from leaves and insects and place them in a clean jar, add alcohol, close and keep in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks. If you forget it for 6 months it’ not a problem. Once extracted, the scent will just stay there, happily dissolved in alcohol.

When ready to bottle, prepare the sugar syrup. Bring the water and sugar to a low boil until the sugar dissolves completely. Cool. Filter the alcohol mixture and reserve the petals. Transfer the infusion in a bottle. Add syrup to the infusion. Stopper the bottle and keep in a cool dark place at least 2 months before using. It does improve with time, so if you can resist you’ll be rewarded.

The left over petals have a lovely taste. Place them in a pan with same weight of sugar and the juice of one lemon. Cook on low heat until dark amber and transfer in a jar. Use like a jam.


4 Comments

Happy Easter Monday

happy spring!

Spring is such a crazy special time here. It’s cold, cold, cold. Then one day we wake up and all the little birds are loudly celebrating the first sun. They seem surprised just like us. Look, there’s flowers! forget-me-not! daisies! Isn’t it amazing, one gets surprised every year.

Also we innkeepers get out of our cocoon. It’s been too cold to paint, plaster, vacuum, polish, wax, plant, prune, mow. So we run.  We’ve been alone for 4 months on our magical mountains and soon someone will turn up at our door. How can that be? And, amazingly,  it happens again.

The last Sunday of March we go to the agricultural fair in Bastia Umbra, it’s part of the spring rites. My husband needs to do some tractor watching

some interesting equipment on display at the agricultural fair in Bastia Umbra near Assisi

I need to buy geraniums and aromatic herbs and our daughter loves to see the animals.

There’s all sorts of breeds of farm animals on display and “beauty” contests to choose the champions. I love the song in the video below. It’s a silly ’50s tune where a silly guy calls a silly girl on the phone and repeats to death “you are the most beautiful of all”. Happy spring everyone.


51 Comments

the limoncello factory leftovers

if life gives you lemons….

My mom has always produced industrial quantities of limoncello.  A set of tiny crystal tumblers and a lovely bohemian bottle full of the golden liqueur  was a permanent installation in her living room. She did not make it for herself, she hardly ever consumed alcoholic drinks, but proudly offered it to all guests at all times of the day. Ok almost, a guest was allowed a cup of espresso if it was earlier than 11:00 a.m.

Of course I also make it for my own guests. This is the right time of the year as  the best quality lemons, juicy and aromatic are available. It’s an end-of winter tradition: every year I zest, infuse and bottle. Then, I am left with lots of peeled lemons  I don’t know what to do with. They sit there, naked in the fridge and eventually they go to waste.

There is only so much lemon juice one can use in March  in rural Umbria. It’ is not really granita time, we’ve had snow 3 days ago. After several experiments however, I have created this naked lemons jam which is delicious on toast but also on vanilla ice cream, crostata and pannacotta

Recipe

  • Bring to the boil a pan of water large enough to hold all the lemons under water. Add 1 tablespoon salt per litre/quart
  • Drop the whole peeled lemons in the salted water and let them boil 15 min. This will remove the bitter taste from the pith
  • Strain and refresh under cold water.
  • [UPDATE] Another method to remove the bitter taste is to soak the lemons in water for three days like I do for oranges. However note that because the lemons have no peel, there is obviously no need to score it. This method is a bit more work than salt-boiling but the jam is a less sharp.
  • Place lemons over a cutting board and cut into small dice, pulp, pith and all. Discard seeds. Place a saucer in the freezer.
  • Transfer lemons and their juice in a tall pan, add equal weight of sugar and slowly bring to the boil stirring from time to time.
  • After about 30 min test for setting point. To do this, place 1/2 tsp jam on the cold saucer. If after half a minute a skin has formed, and it wrinkles, the jam is ready
  • Pour the boiling hot jam into warm, sterilized jars. Seal immediately with lids and place the jars upside down on a table until cold. You can actually eat it after a couple of days but it can be stored for a year.

…..make lemon jam

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