Italy may have just landed a world record... for the most snowfall within a 24 hour period!
The village of Capracotta is 4600 feet up in the mountains of central Italy. A storm on March 5 dumped just over 100.8 inches (or 8 feet, 4 inches) of snow there in 18 hours, reports the Italian weather services. The snowfall inundated the city and left some in the region without power and water.
The Italians aren't used to much snow at all. A couple of inches would be a large snowfall. A dusting is more normal. In the mountains, they are more prepared for snowfall than the rest of Italy... there have been recent large snowfalls in Puglia too, where they are not at all prepared. When in heck are they going to blow all that stuff? Ahh.... bottle it and sell it to the touristi!
You know, I always thought I'd have a problem eating weird things if I ever traveled in the Orient. I'm a person with a fairly narrow palette... I admit it. Lucas has a much broader palette than I do. I like what I like and won't try what I know I don't like. I'm old enough to say that I have tried lots of stuff (for instance, I hate caviar) and know what I can't stomach. In my research and travels about Italy, I've come across things that I wouldn't eat if you paid me. Some things I'll try--once--while others... well, you just sort of know to stay clear.
There is a protected, fluffy tailed species of dormice that have been eaten since the days the Caesars ran things. Down in Calabria the rodents are still stuffed and chomped on. They are stuffed with meat, nuts, raisins, onions and spices. You can imagine little squeaks as you take a bite. I have no idea what they do with all those cute fluffy tails.
Riccota Forte (or Scanta)
Down in Puglia, they are a resourceful bunch. Many of you may know that ricotta means twice cooked or re-cooked... basically, ricotta is a by-product of normal, everyday cheese making. You take the little bit of whey left over, add an acid, boil it and presto, you have ricotta cheese. It's a fresh cheese and should be eaten within a couple of days. When it dries out, the frugal Puglese add salt, and let it dry even more into Ricotta Salada. But they go even further. Some just let it go bad... and stinky... and turn it into a Puglia delicacy called Ricotta Forte, or Scanta. Many think this acrid, foul smelling cheese is worse than any other stinky cheese they've even eaten--but in a good way. We tried it during our stay in a Puglese trullo pointy house. Yes, it stinks, and our host told us how it's just kept in a dark, un-refrigerated place to grow more bacteria and even sometimes minute worms--but we actually liked it! (It did burn my eyes a tad). It's the kind of taste that shocks your eyes open, assaults your nose but somehow in the end pleases your palette. It's also a surprise when you are first introduced to it in a plain jar that looks like it's your Aunt's nine year old, home brew face cream. Enjoy. (Oh, just don't get it on anything sweet... I got it on some Nutella and bread by mistake and nearly got whiplash when I popped it in my mouth.)
Tuscan Blood Torte
Enough said. A torte or cake made from the blood of pigs. I've tried Argentinian blood sausage and British blood sausage, and if the flavor is anything close to what I experienced, I would never go near this stuff. It sort of looks like what came out of me the time I was bleeding internally from gastritis... I know, TMI. Ugh.
or Formaggio Marcio (Rotten Cheese), with maggots
Casu Marzu is a sheep milk cheese from Sardinia and Corsica (they call it Casgio Merzu) that actually contains maggots--live ones. Most cheeses rely on fermentation and bacteria to develop their flavor, but this cheese relies on actual decomposition caused by the Cheese Fly larvae. The texture is oozing, seeping liquid essentially caused by... well... maggot poop. Some people eat this stuff with the larvae, some will tickle the cheese, causing the larvae to be disturbed enough to actually jump out... as much as 6 inches! The daring who have tasted it say this muck is so acidic that it leaves an after taste in your mouth for hours afterward. There was a cheese like this in France I experienced years ago--I wouldn't go near that either!
From what I hear, battarga is definitely an acquired taste that's at least a thousand years old and likely more ancient than that. It's made from the roe (fish egg) pouch of either grey mullet or Atlantic bluefin tuna. The roe pouch is manipulated by hand to get rid of any air bubbles and then cured in sea salt for several weeks. After curing, the result is a hard, dried salty slab which is usually (but not always) coated in beeswax. To use it, you grate some on top of pasta or on top of crostini (toasted bread) and drizzled with olive oil. It also can be used as a main ingredient along with garlic for tomato sauce. It has a tremendously long shelf life and is often smuggled out of Italy due to its high price--up to $140 a pound!
Colatura di Alici, fish sauce from Amalfi
In ancient Roman times there was a fishy concoction called garum, a clear sauce made from salting and compression various types of fish. The clear garum on top was used by the upper classes, while the sludge left over, called allec, was used by the lower classes to add flavor to polenta, porridge or on bread. Today there is a modern version called Colatura di Alici made in one of my favorite villages on the Amalfi Coast, Cetera. The first time I took a tour of Cetera at ground level on Google Earth I started seeing barrels and wondered why this village had so many. It's a fairly simple recipe...
The golden liquid is prized in Italy and is used to flavor all sorts of dishes. Watch the video of Colatura being made...
Yes, the same birds I head waking up on Tuscan mornings are being shot or captured in hanging nets by hunters to supply their illegal bounty to restaurants throughout Italy. Sure, it's illegal, but hey... making a buck and not getting caught is considered furbo in Italy (do a search on this blog for my article on furbo). It seems this is an elite recipe item in Italy. Ladies and gents get dressed up in all their finery and make an event out of eating these little skylarks, goldfinches and other types of song birds. Our hot air balloon pilot, Stephano told us they shoot anything in Italy, especially song birds, so much so that some species are becoming endangered.
The little tweetys are usually stuffed with pork, beef, rabbit or even other birds. They are served with their heads and beaks on top of polenta, looking like a sweet bird's nest.
To show you how nuts Italians are about eating song birds, there is even a dessert made to look just like the infamous songbird and polenta favorite... It's called polenta e osei and made to look just like the real dish. It's made of a soft light sponge cake filled with hazelnut cream that is rolled in a yellow fondant. On top is a little chocolate bird (or birds) made from chocolate marzipan. You can find this in the town of Bergamo.
As for the real song bird dish, the macho thing is to pick up the birdie by the beak and leave nothing... devouring bones, beak and all. (I remember a similar song bird fetish in France years ago). Poor Tweety would say, "I tawt I taw an Italian! I did, I did taw an Italian! Help, Nonna!"
cheese from cow's intestines
This is either a Roman dish or what the Devil himself would order up. A young, milk fed (no grass fed) calf is slaughtered, and besides getting veal from it, its intestines are used to make this delicacy--pajata. The intestines are washed, but not emptied. When cooked, the partially-digested milk inside turns into a thick, funky cheesy substance which is used as a pasta sauce, and often served on its own with crostata. No thanks!
Il conto, per favore!
Cieche, Baby Eels
Cieche are baby eels that migrate upriver after being born in the sea. The name, Cieche literally means blind – these babies have no eyes. In coastal areas of Tuscany, cieche are usually fried or boiled alive. Just be careful they don't jump out when you're trying to dump them into the boiling water or saute pan.
Vending Machine Pizza
As this article proves, Italians will eat anything... but, even pizza made totally inside a robotic vending machine?
Let's Pizza machines were initially designed and manufactured in Northern Italy. It offers a choice of four kinds of pies, and makes the pizza while you watch the whole process through windows--- adding water to flour, kneading the dough, places the sauce and toppings, and bakes the pizza in an infrared oven in just 2.5 minutes. It can produce 90 to 100 pizzas before it needs to be refilled.
Ok, here's my basic pizza sauce. On lazy nights when I'm in a hurry, sure, I'll use a bit of jar sauce (I like Bertolli Tomato & Basil, real basic) but most times I make my own using a basic crushed tomato as a base. There are two brands for that I typically use as a base:
The Del Monte is a great place to start. It has nicely diced tomatoes of decent quality and taste. There isn't much sweetness so I tend to add a nit of sugar to cut the acidity. The Cirio is a recent favorite for when I'm looking for a more Italian taste... it has a higher sugar content the way I remember pizza sauces in Italy. I don't add sugar when I use Cirio. The box is a bit awkward to open... be careful.
1 - 16 ounce can/box of crushed or diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon of dried basil
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar (unless using Cirio brand)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of chopped/ground red pepper flakes (if you like heat)
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced (not chopped,or it adds too much heat)
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat for 5 minutes, then use an immersion blender to smooth our the texture to a smooth liquid. If when using the Cirio crushed tomatoes the sauce looks a bit thick, add a bit of water (2-3 tablespoons) and blend again.
For a fresher flavor, combine all the ingredients and don't heat it. Simply blend to a smooth liquid and use this directly on your pizza. Heating the sauce combines the flavors cohesively while using a cold sauce on pizza gives a brighter, fresher flavor. Try it both ways and see what you think.
If you like a chunkier sauce, use the Del Monte diced tomatoes in your recipe but don't blend it.
In summer, you can simply use tomatoes off the vine to make a sauce. Drop the whole tomatoes (San Marzano plum types are great) into a pot of boiling water for a few seconds, then transfer immediately into an ice water bath. This loosens the skin. Remove from the ice water then using your hands, slip the skins off. Crush them in your hands then use in the recipe preparation above.
I use a small gravy ladle to spread the sauce on my pizza, or you can use a full sized soup ladle like the pizzerias use. Just remember... don't use too much sauce. There are some pizzas that are better with splashed of sauce here and there and the dough showing though in others... the cheese and toppings and olive oil will cover those areas.
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Poor Galileo... condemned by the Pope for heresy in 1633. A gag order and under house arrest was his fate. Would he ever have the last word on the science he so loved and believed in?
Galileo Galilei is widely considered the Father of Science, having championed heliocentrism, the fact that the earth and planets move around the sun rather than the Roman Catholic Church's view of geocentrism with everything in the Universe revolving around the flat Earth. He was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that his scientific views were false and contrary to scripture. Books contrary to the Church's position were banned and Galileo was forbidden from advocating heliocentrism. Galileo seemingly attacked the Pope in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which caused him to be put on trial where he was convicted of heresy and kept under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Recently, from his grave (or parts nearby), Galileo stuck up his middle finger to the Inquisition once and for all.
The finger was cut from Galileo's mummified corpse by Anton Francesco Gori in 1737 when Galileo's remains were transferred from a small closet next to the chapel of Saints Cosmas and Damian to the main body of the church of Santa Croce.... Pretty Gori, huh? (Sorry, couldn't resist.) The finger was sold several times and moved around quite a bit without pointing in any particular direction (sorry again). For many years it was displayed in Biblioteca Laurenziana. It seems that his middle finger (and a thumb and tooth--don't ask) were rediscovered, so to speak, and verified and are now on display at the Museo Galileo (formerly the Florence History of Science Museum).
Is he flipping the bird at the people who condemned him or merely pointing at the heavens above which he loved and believed in so much? We all know how Italians use hand gestures to communicate, but is this going to far--from the grave?
Being a bit of a rebel like Galileo, I'd prefer to picture him sticking it up in the face of his accusers and yelling "Cazzone!" (look it up)
--Jerry Finzi Like this post? SHARE it with friends. Grazie!
It is the work of Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino (1528–1588), a patron of the arts, dedicated the garden to his wife Giulia Farnese, daughter of Galeazzo Farnese, Duke of Latera. What a strange garden to be created in memory of someone... one wonders, what strange memories did he have? It's said that Pirro Ligorio, designed the garden and its creatures, who later continued the work of Michelangelo at the Vatican. The gardens took 30 years to build, almost half of Orsini's short life.
To many, this place is fun, to others it's a scary place. The monsters are and beasts magnificent and huge. Hannibal's war elephant is carrying a just-killed Roman soldier in his trunk. Next is a tilting building, called Casa Storta or Twisted House. Push on one side to hold it up, push on the other and perhaps it will fall. The Titans are in mortal combat. Elsewhere, you'll see Pegasus taking flight. Winged griffins and a snake-legged goddess await to shock your soul.
There seems to be no real plan of the placement of the monstrosities... they are randomly positioned in the garden. The symmetry of garden design popular during the period it was built is nowhere to be seen. There is nothing orderly here, just surprise and shock. There is an inscription on one monument that says Just to set the heart free.
After Orsini’s death this strange garden was abandoned and fell into decay. The forest began to reclaim the place with vines, moss and lichen growing over his creatures. The half-camouflaged monsters must have seemed much more frightening to locals who happened upon the place, a source for many wild tales and superstitions about the monsters and the garden.
In 1951, Giovanni Bettini, a real estate agent, traveling around Italy discovered the place and saw the magic in it. He purchased and restored Bomarzo, freeing the beasts and monsters from the woodlands grasp. Today, the garden received 40,000 visitors a year.
Nonetheless, Vicino Orsini was a visionary when he created the garden. No one knows what was in his mind or heart--light or darkness--when he conceived of the creatures the garden possesses. He ordered the following to be cut into stone, “Thou, who enter this garden, be very attentive and tell me then if these marvels have been created to deceive visitors, or for the sake of art”.
Why go where the typical tourist is going when there are treasures like this in Italy? Just 42 miles from Rome awaits this fantasy...
Contatti Parco dei Mostri
loc. Giardino s.n.c
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Seven miles north of Florence rests a giant treasure from the Renaissance known as Colosso dell'Appennino, or the Appennine Colossus. The 35 foot tall gigantic sculpture is found in Villa Demidoff and was built by the 16th century Italian sculptor Giambologna. He guards the pond in front of him and the grottoes inside his belly. His beard is heavy with stalactites and by his pose one can tell his heart is heavy with time itself. But the Colossus isn't merely a statue... it's also a building. There are chambers inside his body, and even a fireplace in his head that when lit would allow smoke to come out of his nose. One special room could hold a small orchestra to play music for people visiting the site.
He used to have other neighboring bronze statues, many of which were lost or stolen. The massive brick and stone structure has stood for centuries in the same spot, weathered and worn, but still magnificent. The park that the colossus is situated in, once built as an estate for the mistress of an Italian duke, serves as the perfect setting for the gentle giant. The colossus suggests a bond between man and Nature himself.
Perhaps if Giambologna had built his Colossus in a grand piazza in Florence, it would would now be considered one of the greatest masterpieces in the world, but alas, it resides off the beaten path and is little known. The masonry Colossus once had rooms, caves and inner passageways, and even a hydraulic system that connected the head of the giant to the various water sources in his body, and the fountain that poured from the fish he is squeezing. Today it has some visitors, but no where near the number it deserves.
Truth be told, the Park of Pratolino, where the giant resides, is one of the most beautiful parks in the area surrounding Florence. Other treats here include the beautiful Chapel of Buontalenti with its hexagonal plan; behind the Colossus is a fantastic Dragon; below it is a decorated grotto. If you don't go behind the immense statue, you might miss seeing it. There is also the Cupid's Grotto by Buontaltenti; the large aviary; the Maschera Fishpond originally used for hot baths; and the Fountain of Jupiter. Some of these can be visited only upon request. The park is open every weekend and has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Guided tours, even during the week, can be booked by directly calling the park, and all at no cost. Yes, there is no entrance fee to this park.
So if you are in Florence and are looking for the unusual, just 7 miles north of the town this Giant slumbers waiting to awaken your imagination. I'd recommend lunching in Fiesole, then moving on to Pratolino afterwards. Or do it in reverse and watch the sun set over Florence from Fiesole and enjoy a dinner and wine with talks of dragons and giants...
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Vie Cave (vee-ah cavay, meaning cave roads) are mysterious pathways cut by Etruscan hand tools into the mile high tuff stone (tuff or tufa are layers of solidified ash from volcanic eruptions) of the Maremma area of southern Tuscany. The Etruscans lived 200-800 years before the birth of Christ and are the ancient ancestors of most Tuscans.
The paths are an unusual opportunity for hiking, horseback riding and nature photography. They are cut into the tuff to a depth of 30 meters or more. Some are fairly wide and could have handled small carts while others are very narrow and could only be used for human and animal transport, such as pack animals, as donkeys are still used in Italy today. The Vie Cave also incorporates both Pagan and Christian sites and a necropolis.
The vie cave roads radiate like a messy spiderweb from the towns of Pitigliano, Sovana, and Sorano. Some of the roads have more modern sacred Christian images, carved symbols and shrines that were installed to protect against evil Pagan spirits. You will also find ancient tombs. Some paths are green and lush, while others are rocky havens of moss and lichen.
If you decide to visit the Vie Cave, plan ahead, perhaps hire a guide or plan a horseback tour. If walking, be aware that hiking shoes should be worn--some of the paths contain rugged steps and others are uneven due to erosion. This is a true Italian adventure, not just another cookie-cutter tourist destination. Have fun!
If you'd like to feel what it was like to be the richest, most influential and regal of people in the Renaissance world, you're in for a treat if you visit the little known Vasari Corrodor. Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari in 1564 to build a way to get from the Uffizi Palace to the Pitti Palace without having to mix with his subjects, soil his silk shoes or have to walk on cobbles laced with human and animal waste, or muddy puddles. The Corridor winds its kilometer long regal path above the hoi polloi from the Uffizi Palace, across the Arno River along the top of Ponte Vecchio and on up to the Pitti Palace, a newly built palace when the Corridor first conceived. There are stories of the Medici racing chariots pulled by big cats in the Corridor. They also used it to stayed out of harms way from rioting dissidents, walked to their private chapel for mass overlooking away from common worshipers, or conducted affairs of state (or had more notorious affairs) whilst moving between their palace and parliament.
The Vasari Corridor currently contains a self-portrait gallery of the artists who were courting the Court of the Medici for commissions. There are also modern artists' self-portraits recently added to the collection. However, if you visit the Corridor only for the art, you might very well be disappointed. Much of it pales in comparison to the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery itself, and many are suffering neglect and lack of climate control (a problem in many Italian art museums, even the Vatican Museum). It's a very dry presentation of art in the Corridor. Unlike the heat of the Uffizi, the Corridor is typically cool (and a bit damp)--a refreshing change if you've just come from trudging around the Uffizi.
When walking the Vasari Corridor, down below the streets will be filled with sweaty, shoving tourists (read, "commoners" or "illetterati"), while YOU will be like the Medici, strolling through your private covered walkway. Rain will never fall on your royal head. For the length of this exclusive tour you will become Medici. Your nose won't be bothered by the smells of the gutter--or cheap tourist food. You will be led by a Royal guard at the front and one at the rear of your very small tour group (so you don't try and pocket any art... so, OK, they don't really treat you like a Medici.) A warning if the tour group is a bit large... be careful about the many marble busts on columns throughout the Corridor. It is far to easy to back into one and knock it to the floor. In general though, tour groups tend to be less that 15 people or so and are well staggered. Touring the Corridor is an extreme contrast to visiting the Uffizi with it's heat and enormous crowds.
If you want to stay away from the throngs of tourists and generally stay off the beaten path, then the Vasari is for you. If you're a history fanatic, then you'll love it. The tour will start at a fairly mundane door in the Uffizi before heading down stairs past old masters damaged by a Mafia bombing. You then move into a series of corridors alongside the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, and wind your way through private apartments and a church and finally arrive at the Pitti Palace itself.
The real benefit is the unusual and unexpected views out the many windows along the Corridor. Views of the river, great architecture, looking down at the tourists below--all from very different vantage points--are the great photo opportunities that await. There is also a surprise: The Corridor has a small set of glass doors that opens onto the private Medici balcony high above the congregation of the beautiful Santa Felicita church. Imagine that--they were too elite to mix with the lowly congregation below.
You can plan to visit the Uffizi first, then the Corridor (there are tours that give you both) and then come out into the Pitti Palace. As a bonus, the Boboli Gardens are right next door to Pitti. There are also combo tours which include the Corridor and Boboli Gardens. A great way to spend the day in Florence while experiencing both sides of the Arno River and four of Florence's best sites.
Please check THIS WEB SITE to make sure the Vasari Corritor is open for tours. Recently, the Florence fire brigade shut down tours, but they should open them again soon.
Between the 2nd century BC and the 3rd century AD, Testaccio was Rome’s river port. Supplies of wine, oil and grain were transported here by ships in huge terracotta amphorae, which, when emptied, were dumped in the river. But when the Tiber became almost unnavigable as a consequence, the pots were smashed and the pieces stacked methodically in a pile, which over time grew into a large hill – Monte Testaccio--about half a mile around and 120 feet tall.
Today, Monte Testaccio (literally in Latin, "Broken Pot Mountain") near Aventine Hill, is now in nightlife district of the city. When pondering the massiveness of the hill one can't resist thinking that it's the result of feeding, housing and lighting (olive oil was used in lamps) over a million people in Ancient Rome. The "mountain" is actually a vast rubbish heap of millions of broken storage jars and clay roof tiles. Any old terracotta went here, but most came from large 70 gallon amphorae used to transport olive oil. The shards weren't thrown, however... but stacked in an orderly structured manner, layer by layer. Excavations carried out in 1991 showed that the mound had been raised as a series of level terraces with retaining walls made of nearly intact amphorae filled with shards to anchor them in place.It is not often open to the public, but you can still exposed layer upon layer of pots at the back of the restaurants and bars around its base.
During the Middle Ages jousts and tournaments were held on top of the hill. In the 1800s festivals were held there and Garibaldi even used it for a base for guns to fend off the French. Because of all that terracotta, the interior of the hill is very cool causing some to excavate caves for the storage of wine. Popes would often lead a procession to the top of the hill on Good Friday to erect crosses to represent the crucifixion of Christ and two thieves. There is still a cross on top. Nowdays, Popes, jousts or festivals... just partying the night away...