madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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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.


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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.


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an enchanted house: Palazzo Bourbon di Sorbello in Perugia

a truly noble profile

I’ve always had a fascination for old houses. When I was a child the Umbrian countryside was full of abandoned houses, castles, hamlets. Now they have all been renovated into anything from humble agriturismo to fancy spa retreats.

My parents loved to picnic near old houses. If they were safe to walk into, we would even use the fireplace to grill sausages and bread for bruschetta. What  an adventure that was for us kids! The old stones told us tales of mysterious princes and queens, of secrets hidden beyond rickety stairs.

the whimsical Venetian chandelier

I have been “collecting” visits to old houses for a long time. It’s a wonderful way to bring yourself into the habits and culture of a place. Temples might have sublime art, but houses have stories of real people.

As a student I must have walked hundreds of times by Palazzo Bourbon di Sorbello never suspecting the wealth of art and culture hidden behind the imposing entrance. This stately mansion  is not in the countryside, but in Perugia’s city centre. It’s built atop the Etruscan walls and affording breathtaking views over the old town and the Umbrian emerald hills.

a magnificent view from Palazzo Sorbello's terrace

Life has changed from the times I explored abandoned castles.

This is a place which is still alive. I have been recently invited to visit  as the Palazzo has recently opened as a “house  museum“. And what a fascinating history I have learned!  The library holds an antiquarian collection of over 20 thousand volumes. The family has been in Northern Umbria for  a thousand years and in Perugia for over  300 years, can you imagine?  They have an Etruscan well in the basement, it’s 2500 years old.

And there is more: stories of poets and princes, of embroidery and porcelain, but I will not tell you everything.

Please go see it for yourself, it’s a truly special place. One more gem in the crown of our beautiful Umbria.


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spiced persimmon and orange jam

tiny organic persimmons from our trees

PERSIMMONS. I better hurry up and pick them before the frost makes them burst.
Every autumn it’s the same story. We first have a brief spell of leaf glory, when the proverbial Umbrian green turns to golden and red. Then rain comes, more rain than we want. Everything becomes gray except the persimmons. You see them whimsically dotting orchards and gardens with their naked orangeness.
The Umbrian fall is too cold to ripen them on the tree. We pick them and put them in plastic bags together with an apple or two. Apples release ethylene, a ripening plant-hormone. After a few days they are soft and can be eaten fresh or preserved.
It’s a very delicate fruit whose flavor boils easily away. This recipe is the result of several experiments, it’s Christmassy, aromatic and comforting. It even pleases people who don’t like persimmons, like my friend Rebecca. She has admitted to have polished a whole jar before her kids returned from school so to avoid competition.

Recipe

  • 3 oranges
  • approx 1.8 kg (4 lb) ripe persimmon
  • 1.6 kg (3.5 lb) sugar
  • powdered or liquid citrus pectin (in Italy use 2 pouches of Fruttapec 1:1)
  • 1 teaspoon China 5-spices

Pectin  products vary from place to place.  Buy your favorite pectin and use it according to package instructions. You can also make the jam without pectin, by boiling it slowly until thick. In this case but  make sure to add the spices and orange juice at the end to preserve their flavor.
Halve and juice the oranges. Reserve the juice. Put peels in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain. Return peels to pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, cook 3 minutes, and drain. Repeat once more if you have thick skinned oranges. Strain and leave them in a colander until cool enough to handle, 20 minutes.
Using a soup spoon, scrape out the membranes and discard. Cut the peels into thin strips.
Clean, peel and chop persimmons. Make sure to peel them completely because the peel becomes like hard leather once cooked.
Add the orange juice, spices and chopped peel to the cleaned and chopped persimmons.
Add pectin and sugar following package instructions. Boil and transfer into sterilized jars. Seal.

a persimmon tree against the backdrop of an olive orchard in Assisi

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