Ratings for U.S. popular culture have been increasing in Italy. Solid majorities say they like American music, movies and television, more than 74% in Italy. Popular shows have included Jersey Shore, Dancing with the Stars, Friends, ER, Lost, Desperate Housewives, the A Team. Most American TV shows and films are dubbed into Italian.
Instead of visiting the overly crowded, very touristy sites or events in Italy, try something comparable but more relaxed and less filled with tourists. Travel against the grain... travel the less beaten path... Trey to live the Italian life along with the locals. Avoid tourists at all costs. Throw away your "must see" lists!
This will be a new feature here in Grand Voyage Italy. Here is the first installment of INSTEAD OF VISITING THERE, GO HERE...
Instead of visiting the Palio races in Siena...
Visit the Palio di Asti horse races instead.
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Siena’s palio horse races are held in July and August in the height of the tourist season, and are the most famous festival in Italy. Google "palio" and it only finds articles about the one in Siena in southern Tuscany. But if you wait until September, you can avoid the tourist high season and enjoy the palio in Asti instead. Asti is a beautiful town in the northwest part of Italy in the Piedmonte, within the triangle formed by Milan, Genoa and Turin. Asti has more races, more horses, and a dramatic and colorful procession of 1,000 flag-throwers and characters in medieval dress. It’s a more sumptuous and full day for spectators.
Many think palio means horse race in Italian, but it literally means grabs. It refers to the winning cloth that a competition offers as first prize to the winner of such races... not just horse races, either. So, in this horse race the cloth, or colors of the winner is what's up for grabs.
The Palio is a traditional Italian festival of medieval origin that culminates with a bareback horse race. The race has been run each year in Asti since the year 1275. The earliest recorded race dates from the third quarter of the 13th century. Since 1988, the race has taken place in a triangular piazza in the center of Asti, the Piazza Alfieri, on every third Sunday in September. The Asti Palio is equally as beautiful and exciting but not as well known as the Palio in Siena.
You can stand to watch the race for free in Asti... 5,000 spaces are set aside for this. If you want to watch the race in more comfort, you can reserve numbered stall seats for a decent price up to a year in advance of the race.
Race day is much busier than in Siena, with more racing and more pageantry. And as night falls, the party really begins with festive street parties and special events held in local trattorias. Try some of the local wines... Barbera d’Asti (an amazing red) or some of the famous sparkling Asti DOC (forget the "Spumonte"... many are bogus).
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
1 loaf Challah bread (or large brioche bread) cut into 3/4" thick slices.
olive oil for frying
For the batter:
5 extra-large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 tablespoon honey
For the Filling:
1 - 15 ounce container of ricotta (drain for an hour or more if it looks wet)
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or almond extract)
1 teaspoon orange zest
Mix the eggs, milk, almond extract, salt and honey in a bowl large enough to soak the bread slices in. Beat the eggs until they are a bit foamy. Then mix the ricotta, orange zest, sugar and vanilla (or almond extract if you want more almond flavor) until well blended.
First, make your tostata "sandwiches" by spreading the ricotta mixture between two slices, then set aside. Do this for as many slices of bread that are remaining. As a variation, you might add a few blueberries or slices strawberries in between the bread slices along with the ricotta.
Heat a large non stick pan over medium heat. Add light olive oil until it coats the bottom of the pan. As you fry your toast you might have to occasionally drizzle in more oil....
Coat your bread "sandwiches" with egg and place into the fry pan. You should be able to fit about 3 stuffed tostata in the pan at one time. Fry until the bottom is nicely browned, then use a non stick spatula to flip them over. Fry until the second side is browned then remove and place into a serving platter. Use a sheet of foil to keep the tostata warm while you finish cooking the remainder.
You might serve your tostata franchese with powdered sugar on top, drizzle with maple syrup, blueberry syrup or with honey. Some fresh berries or slices or Blood Orange or Cara Cara oranges on the side would also be delicious. I'd have a Virgin Mimosa with this breakfast... half seltzer, half orange juice.
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Making a frittata is as simple as it gets. You can make it for breakfast, for lunch or dinner. It's quick and uses simple ingredients... basically, you can throw one together with whatever is in your fridge or pantry.
For this one, I had some heirloom tomatoes I had bought from a high end supermarket. They were great in last night's salad so I knew they were destined for today's lunch. I also have been enjoying the caciocavallo cheese that I bought and then aged for another month and a half by hanging it up in my cellar. We always have black olives handy and eggs of course are a kitchen staple. The last ingredient was my go-to deli specialty--Boar's Head brand Piccolo Prosciutto, a nice stand-in for smoked prosciutto (speck)... sliced thin and with enough salt to elevate this frittata.
So, first I took 5 eggs and beat them well in a bowl with a few pinches of salt and about 30 cracks from my black pepper grinder. I sliced about 6 slices of prosciutto across the grain into 1" slices and mixed them into the eggs. Next, I prepped the tomatoes... cutting them into small wedges. I used 1 large one and 1 small. I cut the pitted black olives in half... about 1 cup or so. I then grated about a cup of caciocavallo using the 1/4" holes on my box grater (you can substitute its cousin, a sharp provolone).
I then covered the bottom of a 10" non-stick saute pan with light olive oil (never cook with extra virgin--it's smoke temperature is too low) and put the flame on medium high. I sprinkled some red pepper flakes in the oil to spice things up a bit. As soon as the oil was hot (you can see it sort of moving and glistening) I put the egg into the pan and made sure the prosciutto was distributed evenly. After about 60 seconds I placed tomatoes spread across the eggs, then the olives, then the cacciocavallo cheese across the top. I turned down the flame a bit and slow cooked the bottom of the eggs until they were a nice brown color. As the egg cooks you'll be able to use a small spatula to lift one edge and peek under. You'll know when the eggs are cooked well and formed a nice crust when you can shake the pan and slide the whole frittata. If an edge sticks, use the spatula to release that section.
At this point, there are two ways to finish off the second side. You can put the pan into an oven set to broil to finish off the top. Just keep it in there until the top gets a nice color and melts your cheese... about 2 minutes. (Remember to use an oven mitt or pot holder when you go to remove the pan... the handle will be HOT!)
The second way is how I did it this time--a flip using a plate. Holding a large plate upside down over the pan, I quickly turned the pan to invert the frittata onto the plate. Next, I slid the frittata with the help of a spatula back into the saute pan. (If the pan looks too dry, you can add a drizzle of oil first). I then returned it to the flame and cooked the second side for 2-3 minutes more until I got a nice crust.
Slide your frittata onto a large plate, sprinkle with more cheese and cut wedges to serve with hot dollops of any tomato sauce or marinara you have hanging around (we always seem to have some sort of sauce, either home made or jarred). The kids might go for ketchup, but that's OK. No rules here. It's all about love and creating food memories for them.
Remember, that you can always make a frittata from anything you have around... mushrooms, onions, veggies, potatoes, zucchini, cut up pieces of chicken, sausage.... the choices are endless. Enjoy!
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
"Americans think nothing of eating while they walk down a street. Italians would never do something like that. We sit, talk and relax while we eat. It could be that is the reason for Americans getting so big in the middle. Their food isn't given a chance to digest properly."
About two months ago I bought a 5 pound caciocavallo cheese and hung it in the cellar to age. I've been dying to start to use this wonderful, nutty, spicy cheese ever since I fell in love with it in Italy. Well, I've finally started to cut slabs off and used them this week in our meals. I also was in the mood for pesto... I still had two frozen snack bags in the freezer from last year's harvest of basil. (I typically freeze washed and dried basil leaves and olive oil as a base for "winter pesto"). For this recipe I got our some of my frozen chopped basil leaves in olive oil and got started....
Pistachio Pesto Pasta with Caciocavallo
1 pound Cavatappi pasta
6 tablespoons frozen chopped basil leaves in oil (defrosted) - or 4 cups of fresh basil leaves
1 cup shelled pistachios
1-1/2 cups grated caciocavallo cheese - or picante provolone
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine ground sea salt
1-1/2 cups cut pieces of heirloom tomatoes & asst' cherry tomatoes (halved)
1/2 cup black pitted olives
1 can (or small jar) of imported tuna packed in olive oil (use the oil)
Ciabatta for garlic bread
Start the water for the pasta as you work on the pesto. Use a large pot with a good handful of salt.
Put the basil leaves (fresh or frozen basil leaves... don't use dry), the olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, grated cheese and pistachios in the mixer and pulse until you get a moist paste texture. If the mix is too dry, add a bit more olive oil and mix again. The texture should be a paste, but not at all dry. Personally, I like some little chunks of nuts in my pesto, but blend a bit more if like it smoother.
When the water is boiling add your pasta, make a few turns with a large spoons so they don't stick, then cook until al dente. I like cavatappi for recipes like this because it holds the sauce really well.
Meanwhile, place half of the pesto mixture (this recipe makes enough pesto for two meals) in the bottom of a large pasta bowl. Add the tomatoes, tuna, olives and mix gently.
Make the garlic bread... any way you like (I make several versions of garlic bread and won't go into that here). What I made this time was really a tostato with chopped garlic, butter, some grated caciocavallo and a sprinkle of dried oregano on top... grilled under the broiler in the oven for 3 minutes.
Drain the pasta well then add to the pasta bowl and toss the ingredients up and over with a large spoon while turning the pasta bowl... you want to incorporate the pesto and other ingredients evenly throughout the bowl.
You can serve with the garlic bread, top off with more grated caciocavallo and have a bottle chianti or primativo with it.
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
We have learned that long before the Roman Empire, Italy was settled by the Greeks. Surnames were unknown in ancient Greece. The Greeks identified individuals they knew by first name, the name of the father, and the town of origin. So a name might be Alexus Nicolaus Pirgos (Alexus, son of Nicolaus from the town of Pirgos). Similarly, in Rome individuals were named in three parts. These parts included a basic first name, a name in which a person's family was identified, and also a unique name that described that individual. This three part name was common throughout Italian history until medieval times, when the latter two names were dropped and people were known only by one name. This tradition of only giving one name began to cause confusion among citizens, and slowly Italians began adding a second distinguishing label to their names to identify one person from another. Some of these surnames can give a lot of information about a family's history.
Officials say that there are over 350,000 surnames (family names) in Italy and around the world. There are some that are intact and authentic--the same name having been in continuous use, with the same spelling for almost 1000 years. With other names, their meanings cannot be interpreted because of changes in the spelling, their meanings being lost to time, their root word being lost in an obscure dialect, or simply because the name was changed during emigration to another country.
Categories of Surnames
There are different types of surnames and depending on the type, one can try to interpret their meaning. Some are much more informative, others not so much, and still other types are downright entertaining:
Patronymic surnames usually have the preposition di ("from", expressing possession) to say that one was the child of a certain individual. These surnames are very common throughout Italy, although some also use the preposition de, and some join the two words into one and others keep them separate (ie: Mario DeFelice, Giacomo Di Giovanni). They tell you who the founding member of the family was... In the case of Di Giovanni, the originator of the family had the first name Giovanni.
Occupational surnames describe the profession that the forbearer held. Of course, while the family’s original forefather held that particular job it doesn’t mean that his descendants did.... at least, not in modern times. In the past, it was very possible that successive generations were indeed in the same profession, being trained in the family business. An example of this would be the last name Contadino, which means farmer--you can imagine generations of this family all being farmers, but you can also wonder if the surname was changed when a son of the farmer began to be known more for his baking or milling skills more than his farming. We see this same tradition in surnames from other cultures as well... Miller, Shepherd, Cook, Clark, Skinner, Baker, Smith, etc. The following surnames describe what the ancestors did for a living:
Geographical surnames indicated the geographical origins of a family and the adjective used for the inhabitant of a place became the surname of a person, like Napoletano meaning Neapolitan, from Naples... Romano from Rome... Fiorentino from Florence... Genovese from Genoa.
Animal surnames are based on animals and some others also represent the evolution from a main surname referring to an animal. Animals were used as the symbol of some features families had. Surnames like Gatto (cat), Tortora (turtledove), Colombo (pigeon), Gallo (chicken) and Cavallo (horse) find their origins in animals because of the personality their ancestors used to have.
Orphan surnames are a strange case.... These sad descriptives were given to trovatelli (orphans) and were often a bit cruel, sometimes hopeful, or horribly descriptive of the poor child's sad family history. Some orphanages actually had a little revolving door where people could leave babies--no questions asked. Other's would leave babies on a hillside to be noticed by a local farmer needing a child for labor. I find it odd that you needed to label an orphan in such a way--to mark them for life. However, if the child was adopted, his or her name would change. Chances are, anyone walking around with one of these orphan surnames has a forbearer who grew to maturity without ever being adopted.
Descriptive surnames are those expressing the habits, qualities or faults typifying a family and they were often born from nicknames. The name Mezzanotte (Midnight) might refer to a man who had a habit of walking the streets of the village late at night. In the case of a name like Fumagalli, it literally means “smoke the roosters”--a method thieves would use to stun the chickens and keep them quiet as they stole them. Barba congelato means frozen beard, from this you get the name Barbagelata--perhaps describing someone's snow white whiskers? There are more... Pelagatti – skin, cats... Cantalupi – sing to wolves? There was even a famous Cardinal once with the name Bellagamba--beautiful leg. He might have wanted to have his name changed legally, but alas, in Italy this is only allowed in extreme cases.
Nicknames are without doubt the most entertaining and unusual of Italian surnames. These could virtually describe any detail about an individual, from messy hair, to their missing teeth, to their great height, or lack thereof, like the name Basso, meaning short. Some described a person's eating habits, their infidelities, their sexual prowess or physical disabilities. In fact, even today there villages in Italy (especially in the south) that use family nicknames exclusively, although they might still have more proper surnames. Most people will know the nickname (an unofficial one) but have no idea of the person's real surname. These nicknames can be passed on from generation to generation, so the descendant is called by the same descriptive as his great, great grandfather... in one case I read about, (believe it or not) the name was Penenero, or Black Penis. One only has to guess at why one of his forefathers got this unfortunate moniker and the embarrassment of the person being called it today. The name Finocchio means Fennel, but it’s also a pejorative for being gay. So a straight man or woman may have this surname because one of their ancestors was perceived as being gay. Here's a few more I found:
So, there you are.... a little history on Italian names. As for our name, Finzi... all I can find out is that it's most likely a very old Italian Jewish name (although we grew up Roman Catholic, and my great-great grandfather was Catholic too). You might remember the 70s film, The Garden of the Finzi-Contini about a Jewish-Italian family during WWII, and I discovered a bunch of paver tiles on a street in Rome bearing the names of an entire family of Finzis who were all killed in the concentration camps. (That shook me up when I saw the photo). I've tried variations of Finzi in Google Translate and only sensible phrases I came up with was "since the z" or "end z"... the last letter in the alphabet.
As far back as the 1400s there were bankers with the Finzi name in northern Italy. The most famous Finzi was Gerald Finzi, a London born classical composer, born from Italian-Jewish stock. I do have a cousin who is very famous--Giuseppe Finzi, director of the San Francisco Opera, also from Molfetta. There are only 209 Finzis in all of Italy. That's not so much, but then again, that's a lot of cousins! Maybe on our next trip we should go knocking on doors...
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved