Storyteller Strega

Villa Spanelli, Naples, Italy

Maria was the only one who could calm Isabella when she was in the throes of an emotional collapse.  No matter how I tried to hold her close, rock her, pat her back, she would wriggle out of my grasp and I would follow her around the villa, grabbing her to prevent any destruction of precious statuary.

In response to Isabella’s sobs, Maria always appeared – in whatever room my vain efforts at comfort happened to be taking place.

 

Maria was always calm and that serenity had a soothing effect on Isabella.  Maria seemed to be possessed of some ancient wisdom – long-kept secrets and stories that have been floating around the villa and the city since the beginning of time.

“Come,” Maria would say in Italian, which Isabella could speak fluently, but which I was only just beginning to comprehend, “you see how your crying makes your mamma sad.  Let’s go all three of us to my rooms.  I will make us a cup of tea and tell you a story.”

And Isabella would cease mid-tantrum!  I was always relieved by Maria’s quiet manifestation.  Her room were far from the family’s apartment.  How did she know?  I was always jealous of Maria.  What did she know about my child that I didn’t?


Maria had her own small kitchen where she brewed a strange kind of tea – made of roots and herbs.  It was bitter and sweet at the same time.  To this she added honey and a slice of orange.  She on the calming effects of this brew.

Isabella would sit on the floor while Maria was making her potion.  Usually out of nowhere would emerge Maso, Maria’s black tomcat.  

“He is a good cat,” Maria would say.  “See, he has a kind face.”

He was all black, with green eyes which I loved.  I would be sitting on the small couch by the fireplace.  Maso would jump on my lap.

When the tea was served, Maso would move to the side and Isabella would climb onto my lap in his place.  And Maria would begin a story.  I was grateful for her tales for I had no books to read to Isabella.  In those days books in English were hard to come by in Italy.  Maria knew all the old myths and superstitions.  Reciting these, she transmitted to Isabella the wisdom of the ancients.  I was happy for Maria to give Isabella what I couldn’t.

“What story shall we tell today?” began a period of tender serenity.

 

Advertisements

Racconti di Sebastiano e la mia gioventu perduta

Naples from Hotel Paradiso
Vista dalla villa

Il luogo del passato

Ogni tanto un’immagine dei tempi passati mi pare, nonostante che io non l’avessi mai richiamata.  Mi capita sempre in qualche parte di Greenwich Village, e di solito verso sera, quando la luce del pieno pommeriggo comincia a sbiadire.  Un’immagine del mio primo amore sembra sfiorarmi il viso e poi se ne va, mi faccendo rabbrividire, ma di spavento o di felicitá, non lo so. 

La settimana scorsa mi é capitato  nella stazione metropolitana di West Fourth Street.  Stavo sul treno E .  Non avevo nessun’intenzione di scendere lá, ma per forza passavo per questa maledetta stazione prima di arrivare alla stazione Spring Street.  Qui avrei incontrato la mia amica Janna per cena in un ristorante molto alla moda, come le piace. 

Ero lontano da pericolo adesso.  Vivevo fuori dalla cittá, in una casa che dava sul mare.  Tutto que é aperto, non chiuso com’era la villa dove vivevo con Sebastiano.  Questa villa era stata circondata da mura, e c’era una piscina profonda in mezzo.  La casa del mio amore.

Non sarei mai scesa a West Fouth Street, ma al momento giusto quando il treno si é fermato in stazione, ricordavo che non avevo soldi con me.  Sapevo che c’era una banca vinco alla stazione.  Anni fa, questa banca fu O. Henry’s Steak House.  Qui, d’abitudine, mi aspettava Sebastiano, il mio amore.  Ho ricordi felici dei pasti che abbiamo mangiato in questo luogo, o al meno che ho mangiato io – manzo sanglante e una bella quantitá di vino rosso.  Lui non mangiava mai niente. 

Salivo la scala per ragiunggere la banca e Lui era lá per strada.  Vedevo Sebastiano di fronte alla porta, com’era la sua consuetudine molto tempo prima.  Ma forse non era una fantasama.  Quando mi sono avvicinata, un ratto mi passava di corsa e mi guadarva con tenerezza.

 

***************************************************************************************

Il rimpianto

Allora, sono un pò sorpresa di trovarmi una donna anziana, sola e senza figli.  Quando ripenso alla mia vita, mi chiedo che cosa avrei dovuto fare diversamente.

Prima di tutto, non avrei dovuto sposare Sebastiano. Quel diavolo vive ancora e benché mi voglia sempre bene, credo che sia meglio evitarlo.  Non molti giorni fa l’ho visto nella stazione metropolitana di West Fourth Street.  Passava vicino a me e mi gettava uno sguardo triste e bramoso.  Ho fatto finta di non vederlo.

All’inizio del nostro matrimonio, mi sembrava che la vita con Sebastiano sarebbe stata esotica e piena di aventura.  Volevo scappare dalla mia famiglia stretta e borghese.  Volevo trovare amiche oltre quelle che avevo e che non mi piacevanno.  L’ho fatta finita con Janna .  Lei sfruttava di tutti e viveva sulle spalle degli altri.  Ed anche con Arabella.  Quella pretendeva di essere premerosa, ma in fatti provava a intromettersi negli affari delle sue amiche  Sebastiano mi offriva independenza.

Ma c’é bisogno di rifletterci.  Se non avessi sposato Sebastiano, non avrei avuto Isabella.  Sopratutto rammarico come sia stata breve la sua vita.  Se potessi fare qualche passo indetro, l’avrei badata meglio – molto meglio.  Non l’avrei mai portata in quella piscina maledetta di fronte alla nostra villa.  Darei tutto quello che ho realizzato dopo – bellezza, soldi, fama – se potessi tornar al fatidico giorno e se non mi fossi addormentata nel sole, anche per un attimo, anche se fossi stanca da morire.

Alle fine, ero benedetta solo con Isabella.  Le altre cose che la vita mi ha regalato mi valgono meno di niente.  Non guarirò mai di averla persa.

West Virginia Italian

August was a busy month.  It is usually a month to stay home, go to the beach and tend the garden, but this year we traveled.  No, we did not go to Italy – we got as far as England where there are Roman ruins, but before that we went to Morgantown, West Virginia.  It is a place of some architectural gems.

 

IMG_0997
Early 20th Century building whos façade has become modernized with neon.

 

I am from Morgantown and lived there the first nineteen years of my life.  There was an Italian community there, although except for the older Italians who had emigrated from various parts of Italy in the early 20th century (My father came from the Cilento region.), it seems to me that we were assimilated; we considered ourselves West Virginians.

 

IMG_1002
The old Metropolitan Theater, formerly a movie house, now a performance space

 

First of all, I would like to dispel any misconceptions of West Virginia.  It is not a southern state.  In fact – and I asked my old friends and the volunteer in the Morgantown History Museum who agree – we think that people who consider West Virginia to be a part of the south don’t know their American history.  West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863 because it chose to remain a part of the Union, and considers itself a northern state.  Nor is the culture particularly southern.  West Virginia never really had a plantation economy; its industries were forestry and coal mining.  These attracted protestants from Ireland in the 18th century, and later people from Wales, Eastern Europe, and Italy.  This seemed to be the ethnic make-up of Morgantown when I lived there – all were proud of their heritage, but still West Virginian.

 

IMG_1005
Detail of early 20th century building on High Street

 

Morgantown is home of West Virginia University and once was a rather wealthy town. It boasted several glass factories — Jacqueline Kennedy chose glassware for the White House from one.  There was Morgan Shirt Factory which produced Ralph Lauren, Ellen Tracy and Van Heusen apparel.  There was also Sterling Faucet, which, as the name indicates, made faucets.  I was saddened to learn that these industries are gone now, just memories documented in the History of Morgantown Museum.

IMG_1003
Old stone building, formerly a bank, lather a clothing store, now housing souvenir shops and a radio station

 

I love this building.

IMG_0991

It stands on the corner of High Street and Pleasant Street and, when I was little, housed a pharmacy called Moore and Parriot.  The pharmacy was owned and run by two Italian-American women, Mary Angotti and Anne DiNardo.  They were friends of my mother.  Mary Angotti was the pharmacist.  This was in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.  There have always been enterprising Italian-American women!

And, yes, Italian men worked in the coal mines. I don’t remember much coal mining in and around Morgantown when we were growing up – and I asked my friends who agreed and said that more mining was done in the southern part of the state. Nevertheless, there was some.   Frank Liberatore, a friend of my father, was killed sometime in the 1940’s in a mine collapse.  His widow Maria supplemented her Workmen’s Compensation by taking care of children – me included.

She taught me how to make pizza when I went to visit her one day.

“Come in,” she said.  “I made pizza.”   Her pizza was different from what we knew of in pizza parlors.

“But there’s no tomato sauce or cheese.”  I was confused.

“Oh, this is the pizza.”  She offered me a disc about six inches in diameter, with browned onion and salt.  “You put whatever you want on it.”

It was delicious!  When I make pizza, I always think of her.  Indeed, I used this recipe when we got back to New York – to make pepperoni rolls.

Pepperoni rolls are a West Virginia-Italian invention.  I had had them when I was growing up, usually from Aunt Jenny’s bakery on Walnut Street, and sometimes from Pike’s on Pleasant Street.  I was a little surprised when I moved to New York that no one here had ever heard of them; then I forgot about them.

Then I found Morgantown Magazine in our hotel room.  “The Pepperoni Roll, from A to Z,” an article written by Mary Wade Burnside explains that this dainty was developed in West Virginia as a lunch that coal miners could take with them down in the pits.  Ms. Burnside also tells us that there is a book written about the pepperoni roll – The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll by Candace Nelson.  And since the book mentions that they could be made from pizza dough, I decided to make some for my family.

I tried to make them as I remembered them with thin slices of meat rolled up in plain bread.  However, the article indicates that the making of pepperoni rolls has become an art with variations and permutations according to one’s preference. You can access Morgantown Magazine and more information about pepperoni rolls at morgantownmag.com.  In the meantime, here is my recipe:

Pepperoni Rolls  

6 oz. thin sliced pepperoni                                                         ½ cup water

1 pack dried yeast                                                                         1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt                                                                               1 additional cup water

2 Tablespoons olive oil                                                                 2 cups + flour

Extra flour for kneading dough

 

DSC00529
The beginnings of pepperoni rolls

 

Put ½ cup warm water into a large mixing bowl.  The water should be about 100ᵒ F.  If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar on the water.  Cover bowl and let stand for about a half hour, or until yeast begins to bubble.

Add the olive oil and salt to the yeast mixture.  Then begin to add the flour, about 1 cup at a time until you have a smooth dough that forms a ball and does not stick to the surface of the bowl.

Flour your counter or table top and remove the dough from the bowl and begin to knead.  You will have to knead for about 15 minutes, adding flour as necessary.  When little blisters begin to form in the dough, it is ready.

Lightly grease the bottom of the bowl with a little olive oil and put the ball of dough in.  Turn once to make sure both sides of the dough are oiled.  Cover and let stand for about an hour.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Flour your work surface and roll the dough into a rectangle.  (You can do this in batches.)  Cut rolled dough into squares of about 6 inches. (or larger if you prefer)

Spread the pepperoni slices on each square and roll like a jelly roll.  Tuck in the ends.  Place the rolls on a greased baking sheet and let them sit for 15-30 minutes – until they have risen but are not too big and airy.

Bake at 350ᵒ F. for about 30 minutes.  They are done when nicely browned and sound hollow when you tap them.

This should make about a dozen larger rolls, or two dozen smaller ones.

 

DSC00539
Pepperoni rolls ready to eat

 

Not only did I re-discover pepperoni rolls while staying at the Hotel Morgan, we also were served a new version of the classical Manhattan – the Black Manhattan.

What does this have to do with being Italian?  Well, it’s made like a traditional Manhattan, but instead of sweet vermouth, this drink calls for an amaro di Averna, the bitter liqueur from Sicily.

DSC00552

You can use either rye or bourbon (We used Bulleit rye), amaro di Averna and a dash or two of bitters.

 

DSC00544
Jim mixing Black Manhattans

 

 

DSC00546
Black Manhattans ready for a toast

 

 

DSC00549

Cheers!  Squisito!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Parma

Rosemary 2 

Rosemary grows in a pot in my kitchen window.  Tonight I am making roast eggplant and will add some of this pungent herb.  The sharp aroma, the tender prickliness of the leaves will let me remember a long-ago meal – with you, when we lived in Parma.

We had small garden outside our apartment where we grew zucchini and rosemary.  Although you  had brought us to Parma because of its architecture, was not the best place for you.  It is a city famous for parma ham and parmesan cheese, not to mention horsemeat tartar.  Yes, raw horsemeat seasoned with black pepper and garlic and herbs.  You were vegan and angry with me because the night before I had eaten horsemeat tartar in a restaurant on Strada Republica.  You had asked me how I could have even thought of ordering such a mean when I was with you.  You had pasta with tomato sauce – no cheese.  Parma is not a city for vegans.  I refused to be intimidated either by you or the horsemeat tartar.  It was wonderful!

Still annoyed with me, the next day you closed yourself in the living room which had become your art studio.  You were constructing a photo collage of Parma Cathedral.  Your mind was on your work and my presence irritated you.  I tried to be quiet and read, but you were fascinating.

I watched while you caught Parma’s quiet dignity in your pictures.  You encapsulated tranquility in your mounting of Parma Cathedral and the Baptistery, dating from the 11th century.

IMG_0274 Parma Cathedal

IMG_0281 Baptistery

You brought us into intimacy with the cathedral, through the ancient wooden doors,

Cathedral Door

into the peaceful cloister.  Cloister

We peeked into the courtyard, Courtyard 1

then entered, resting at last close to a fountain.

Fountain

So precise.  So particular.  You were so observant of light, shade, color.  Your talent amazed me.  Feeling guilty and shunned, I resolved to follow your example and be attentive in my own work.

I decided to roast the eggplants I had bought that morning to try to pacify you.  But no red sauce.  Would you like it?  I hoped so.  I picked two ripe Zucchini from our little garden and snipped tall sprigs of rosemary.

Zucchini Plant

While you were busy attaching, joining, bonding, I assembled the ingredients and started to cook.Vegetables

Assembled Ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

I sliced the vegetables into thick rounds.  They were very fresh.  As I cut they released the moisture that they had received from the damp soil.  I minced garlic.  Its acrid odor is deep.  Like the earth, it clings and nurtures

I heated olive oil over a medium flame until its fruitiness exploded and it shimmered in the pan.  I added the garlic, salt and rosemary.  This herb makes all the difference.  Rosemary is a dweller of the air rather than of the earth from which it springs.  Its singular fragrance rises filling the kitchen with a piquancy that reaches upward.  Earth smells and air smells in the fiery oil.

Simmering Garlic and Rosemary

I coated the watery vegetables with the other elements – the fire, earth and air of the herbs sautéed in oil and lay then on a flat baking sheet and.   I put them in the oven and hoped that they would be done within an hour.  I didn’t understand the centigrade thermometer.  I estimated three-hundred-fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  I would have to keep checking.

Ready to Roast

An aroma from the kitchen aroused me from my meditation on you.  The vegetables called me.  The elements had combined to make an enticing dinner.

Ready to Serve

Some art forms endure over time and even make it stand still– literature, painting, photography.  Others are consumed with time, disappearing even as you enjoy them — dance, theatre, music.  A dinner carefully prepared must be taken at the peak moment.  I called you and you came.  Your art could withstand time, mine not.  For a brief while we shared our pleasure.

This evening after so many years I am content in my kitchen with my potted herbs.  I pick the rosemary for a present dinner.  Rosemary always makes me think of you.  Rosemary for remembrance.

Rosemary 1

 

Pont de Gard and Aqueducts

Pont de Gard

Not all Roman ruins are in Italy.  The Empire was vast.  We’ve climbed Roman walls in England, found a statue of Trajan in a far-flung field in Romania.   When we visited Cahors, France, we couldn’t use the municipal parking lot because, when expanding it, workers discovered Roman ruins.  All work stopped and the archaeologists were called in.  These ruins are a patrimony to be conserved and appreciated.

France, when it was Gaul, was a part of the Roman Empire.  One of the most impressive relics of that time exists almost intact:  The Pont de Gard in Provence. 

DSC00227

The Pont de Gard is an aqueduct built in the first century AD to direct water from a mountain spring to the Roman colony at Nimes.  Of course, it fell into disuse when the Western Empire collapsed.  Fortunately during the Middle Ages it was used as a toll bridge, so remains more or less intact. 

DSC00228DSC00227

 

Jim, being an engineer, has a lot of knowledge and something to say about aqueducts.

 Aqueducts by Jim MauroDSC00230

 

 Roman aqueduct technology gave the Roman population an advantage of better health over competing civilizations and better food supply as they also supplied water for their extensive crops.  The technology included:  gravity feed at a minimum slope of 1 to 4000, periodic maintenance required a conduit large enough for a person to enter through the regular openings; also at regular intervals, pools dug down, would collect sediment; if the topography was too steep steps in the conduit or large receiving pool to catch the falling water and release it into a lower conduit would be used.  They also developed a form of concrete called putoleum that would cure under water and was water proof.   Rome in the year zero received from its aqueducts as much water as New York City in the year 2000. When a large festival with many animals was staged in the Coliseum, after it was over the whole bottom area was flushed out to the river.

 The aqueduct scene that most people think of is of arches supporting the water conduit, but in reality most of the aqueduct is below grade and through mountains/hills, only 20% is above grade.  Some of the techniques used by the aqueduct engineers for siphoning water over depressions are still used by today’s hydraulic engineers.

 Aqueduct near St. Agata dei Goti 2

Aquaduct near St. Agata dei Goti (2)
Aqueduct near St. Agata dei Goti

 

In the Naples area the “Augustus” aqueduct was built to supply the Southern Fleet stationed in Mycenium northwest of Naples.  It terminated in the “Piscina Mirabalis” which is a One Million gallon holding facility built exclusively for the fleet. 

Entering Piscina Mirabilis
Descent into Piscina Mirabilis
IMG_0505 Light through Surface Access
Light through surface access

 

In Naples itself at Virgil’s tomb you can walk through a section of the aqueduct.  It is about 5 feet high & 2 feet wide.  The bottom & sides up to 4 feet are covered with putoleum cement as the rock in Naples is largely tuffa that is porous.

Roman Brickwork inside aqueduct
Roman brickwork inside aquaduct

 

 

 

Good Friday, Salerno and Pastiera

The kitchen smells scrumptious with wafts of lemon, vanilla, cinnamon and custard.  I have made pastiera, an Easter tradition I have come to of late.  Another taste of Naples that we have made our own.  I didn’t grow up with this luscious dessert, although Jim did.

The first time I ever tasted pastiera was in Salerno.  It was Good Friday and we decided to have an adventure.  We would go from Naples, fifty or so miles south to the Cilento region.  There we would try to find my father’s town, Campora, and visit my cousin Maria who still lived there.  It seemed like a short distance, but getting there was not so simple.

We took the train from Naples to Salerno, a charming port that butts up against mountains.  Salerno is Naples’ equal in richness of history, but its opposite in spirit.  Salerno is a quiet, clean city that scintillates when the sun hits the harbor.  It is at the end (or beginning) of the Amalfi Coast, but is unfortunately overlooked in favor of Sorrento or Positano.

 

So far so good; however, getting from Salerno to Campora, we found we would have to rent a car, since there was scarcely any public transportation.  This was easily done, but before heading to Campora, we decided to see a bit of Salerno.  We didn’t have much time – only a couple highlights, but what we did see was noteworthy.

We wandered around the historic center, straying into courtyards and peering at antique fountains.


 

 

 

 

Thus, we came upon the Medieval Aqueduct.  We read on the historical marker that it was built in the ninth century and was called “Devil’s Bridge” because it was said to have been built in one night with the help of demons.

During the ninth century Salerno was under Lombard rule, but not Naples.  The Lombards were a Germanic tribe that invaded Italy in the seventh century.  Their rule stopped just beyond Salerno, never reaching Naples, which was still nominally part of the Eastern Roman Empire, although really an independent dukedom.  (Yes, the Empire still existed, ruled from Byzantium.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we made our way to the Cathedral of St. Matthew, originally built around 1070’s, when all the south of Italy had been conquered by the Normans.  (The Normans conquered England during the same century.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cathedral was completely re-built after having been destroyed by an earthquake in the seventeenth century, but bell tower dates back to the thirteenth century.  The cathedral is said to house the tomb of the Apostle St. Matthew. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After so much sightseeing and before our long winding drive to Campora, it was time for lunch.  We found a restaurant near the train station (and also close to the car rental office) and there I had my first taste of pastiera that Good Friday in Salerno.

The next Good Friday we were in New York again.  Hunting through my cookbooks, I found a booklet called “Great Recipes” that had come in the mail in 1983, and included a recipe “Neapolitan Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana)”.  I found wheat berries in Little Italy, although I had to ask for “grano” because they didn’t know what wheat berries were.  I felt right at home.

So, I have been making pastiera for Good Friday ever since and would love to share the recipe.  Since I am dairy intolerant, I have included non-dairy substitutions.  The recipe is not difficult, but takes time, so I make a few days before I want to serve it.  The flavor only improves.

Neapolitan Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana

Wheat Berries

1 cup wheat kernels                                        1 cup milk or soy milk

2 tablespoons sugar                                         2 strips of lemon zest

  1. Soak the kernels in water to cover overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the kernels, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until wheat is tender.  Remove from heat, let stand at room temperature, covered for about 1 hour.
  3. Next, drain the wheat of any remaining liquid. In a saucepan, combine the wheat with the milk, sugar, and lemon zest.  You can add a pinch of salt, if desired.  Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool.  Discard the lemon zest.

In the meantime, make the

Pasta Frolla

2 cups all-purpose flour                                               ¼ cup sugar

½ cup lard or coconut oil, chilled                               1 egg yolk

½ cup milk or soy milk

  1. In mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Cut in the lard or chilled coconut oil and work quickly with fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2,         Beat egg yolk and milk together and stir into the flour mixture.  Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic foil and chill at least 20 minutes.  (While the wheat berries and milk are cooling.)

Next step:

Crema Pasticcera

3 egg yolks                                       ½ cup sugar (or less, according to taste)

¼ cup flour                                          1 cup milk or soy milk

2 strips lemon zest                               ½ teaspoon vanilla

  1. In a pan mix the egg yolks and sugar; gradually add the flour and mix well. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until the mixture is liquid and smooth.  Add lemon peel and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Let it “puff” once or twice but do not really boil it.  Remove from heat, discard lemon and vanilla and set aside.

Putting it All Together

1 pound ricotta, drained or 1 pound non-dairy cream cheese

6 eggs at room temperature, separated (You can also add the egg white left from the Pasta Frolla.)

2 tablespoons finely chopped orange peel

1 tablespoon finely chopped candied citron

½ teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Reserve one-third of the Pasta Frolla and roll out the remaining dough into a circle large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the prepared pan. Let the dough overlap but trim all around evenly.  Chill.
  3. If you are using ricotta, strain it through a sieve. Place ricotta or non-dairy cream cheese in a mixing bowl, stir in the sugar and beat until creamy and smooth.
  4. Add the 6 egg yolks one at a time, then all the remaining ingredients except the egg whites.
  5. Fold in the Crema pasticcera and the wheat berry mixture.
  6. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into the ricotta/non-dairy cream cheese mixture. Spoon into the chilled pastry shell.
  7. Roll out the reserved dough and cut into ½ inch wide strips. Arrange stripps in lattice-fashion on top of pie.  Fold overlapping dough all around pie and seal strips in.
  8. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cover pie loosely with aluminum foil and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes longer.  Remove pie from oven and cool on wire rack.

Note:  To develop its full flavor, this pie should stay overnight in a cool place or be refrigerated.

  1. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.

Enjoy!!

 

Lent, Blood Oranges and Sanguinaccio

There are some flavors from our time in Naples that still pervade our lives.  Blood oranges, for one.  We first tasted them the rainy winter we lived in Naples.  All of a sudden they were the only oranges available in the markets.  The skin displayed dark red blotches; inside was darker still, even purple.

dsc00467

 

They did not look like the oranges we knew.  And the flavor was different, not as sweet, yet somehow deeper.  A small fruit with a big taste.  In Naples they are known as red oranges – arance rosse.

dsc00475

But Jim did not like them.  He went on search of a “real orange”.  He would ask all the vendors in Italian, “Ė questa un’arancia arancia?”  “,” they would be the puzzled response.  What he didn’t realize was that the vendors thought he meant, “Is this a real orange?” which indeed it was.

For me, now, blood oranges signal the beginning of Lent.  The red oranges arrive, we were told, in February.  The winter we spent in Naples Ash Wednesday happened to be in February, preceded of course by Carnevale.  Carnevale in Naples is quite a lively affair involving rotten eggs.  The teachers at Centro Italaino where we were studying told us that some people saved eggs from the previous year to toss at passersby.  We spent a week sidestepping the putrid eggs splattered in the streets.

Carnivale, of course, initiated the season of Lent, with its obligations of sacrifice.  Old traditions linger.  We no longer have memories of winter stores running low at this time of year – after the autumn harvests and before the new growth of spring.  Food would have been scarce in times past, however.  Supplies like meat and fat that might spoil would have been consumed during Carnivale.  Yet for us that winter in Naples, Lent brought the new taste of blood oranges and something else delicious besides.

Now something new appeared.  A new dessert in the cafes and pastry shops.

img_3196
Inside Cafe Gambrinus

I first tasted it one evening when I arrived home from my Italian lesson.  Jim said he had something for me and presented me with a dish of what looked like chocolate pudding that he had bought.  He told me it was called sanguinaccio.

 

“Do you know what that is?” he asked.

“Something to do with blood?”  I guessed, knowing that the Italian word for blood is sangue.

“It’s chocolate cream and is supposed to be thickened with the blood of a pig.”

I imagined that they must have slaughtered pigs at this time of year to make prosciutto for Easter.  I didn’t really know.  Or perhaps food supplies were running low for animals too and there wouldn’t have been enough to feed them.  In any event, nothing would have been wasted and the blood, which would have had to have been used quickly was made into blood sausage and a remarkable dessert

Nowadays, the pasticcerie no longer use blood, but their confection is delicious nevertheless having been thickened with lots of dark chocolate.

dsc00471

After some experimentation, I duplicated it (somewhat) for my family back in New York.  I have included this recipe in my book Ciao, Napoli.  And here it is:

 Sanguinaccio

 3 tablespoons corn starch

1/2 cup sugar,

1 1/2 cups whole milk or soy milk,

4 ounces baking chocolate

1/2 cup red wine

2 eggs

Melt chocolate and set aside.

Beat the eggs with red wine and 1/4 cup of sugar in large heat-proof bowl and set aside.

Combine corn starch and 1/4 cup of sugar in a saucepan. Stir with wire whisk to sift together. Gradually add milk and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Add the chocolate and continue to cook until well blended.  You may add more sugar if you thing the chocolate is too bitter.   Mixture should be very thick but not boiling.

Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, beating constantly until blended. Return to saucepan and cook for 2 minutes, but do not allow it to boil.

Spoon into 6 individual serving dishes and allow it to cool before serving.

Ash Wednesday has just passed and I am continuing my lately assumed tradition of making sanguinaccio on the Sunday before.  This time I used coconut beverage instead of soy milk and the result was denser, needing additional red wine.  Meno male!  Red wine and chocolate make for a luscious combination.  We’re going to enjoy this tonight.

dsc00476

As for the blood oranges, both Jim and I developed a preference for them.  Then at the end of spring, they disappeared from the markets as suddenly as they came.  We couldn’t find them anywhere.  Not until February, the vendors told us over and over again.  Yesterday in New York I found some in the supermarket and brought home a couple of bags.  So we are enjoying what has become our customary feast on the first Sunday of Lent.

dsc00483

Ahh, the pleasures of the late-winter table!

dsc00477