31 August 2011

LFE: Wish You Were Here


Campione d' Italia

21 August 2011

LIFE: His Tremendousness

SARONNO, Italy – High in the hills above the Italian Riviera of the Flowers sits the small principality of Serborga. It is a self proclaimed principality and up until 2009, the 364 people who live in Serborga were ruled by Prince Giorgio, a bewhiskered grower of mimosa flowers. 
Welcome to Serborga
How Giorgio Carbone, also known as His Tremendousness, came to see himself as royalty is a bit fuzzy but the documents he produced from the Vatican archives  did show that the village was once a sovereign state and not part of the Kingdom of Italy.  And since there were no other documents to prove anything to the contrary, His Tremendousness staked his claim.

According to the documents Prince Giorgio found, the story of the Principality of Serborga dates back to the year 954 when the local counts gave the village to a group of Benedictine monks who promptly built a monastery there. Then, in 1079, Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV elevated the village to the rank of an imperial principality of the Holy Roman Empire. 

That was proof enough for His Tremendousness. After declaring Serborga a principality Prince Giorgio established a palace, wrote a Constitution and set up a cabinet and a parliament. His grand plan involved eventually having a cabinet of 15 ministers, and a dozen members of parliament.
Winding Cobblestone Streets
He chose a coat of arms, minted money, (the Luigino with his picture on it), issued stamps (with his picture on them) and license plates. He also chose a national anthem and mobilized a standing army of one, Lt. Antonello Lacala. 

Seborga also has its own flag, a white cross on a blue background, a patron saint, St. Bernard and a Latin motto: Sub Umbra Sede - Sit in the Shade.
Colorful Buildings of Serborga
Prince Giorgio discovered that the sovereign of Serborga had always been elected by the people so he decided to return to that tradition and hold an election. The villagers were so enchanted by Carbone’s quirkiness that he was elected Prince in 1963. 

He gracefully accepted the informal title of His Tremendousness and took to the throne with style. While holding court at the Bianca Azzura bar in the center of town, he would wear a red, green and white sash, carry a large sword and wear a uniform decorated with many rosette medallions. In 1995 he was elected Prince for Life in 1995 with a vote of 304 to 4.
His Tremendousness
His dedication to his subjects was so complete that he never married, telling People Magazine in a 1993 interview that he loved all of his female subjects equally and would never be able to choose one over another.
In the Hills Above the Italian Riviera
In his role as His Highness Giorgio I, Prince of Seborga, Carbone didn’t earn a salary. It was never clear if one was ever offered but as Prince he could help himself to all the ham and cheese he wanted from the village store without paying, which he did every day.  

Even though the Italian government never took him seriously, Carbone managed to convince about 20 states to recognize Serborga as an independent entity. The first to step up was Burkina Faso. He also established Consular representation in 10 other countries. 

After a 46 year reign, His Tremendousness died in 2009 at the age of 73. He left no heirs and Seborga’s royal destiny is still uncertain. Hopefully the story won't end there.

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18 August 2011

AUNTIE PASTA – Out to Lunch

SARONNO, Italy - These eight restaurants are without a doubt in every Milanese’s little black book as the best lunch places in town.  Some are in the center, others are slightly off center, but all are worth a visit. The list is not in any particular order. Buon Apetito.  

 Dulcis in Fundo
Via Gianfranco Zuretti 55
Milano (MI)
Hidden away in a courtyard, this former factory has had a major make-over. From grime and grunge it has been transformed into a bright and welcoming restaurant.  For  as little as 10 euros for lunch, you can choose from some rather exotic dishes. Open for dinner only on Thursday nights.  
Menu choices:  Puff pastry with artichokes, codfish balls, diced swordfish and turnip greens,  lasagnetta with speck zucchini and saffron, pasta with artichokes and bottarga, risotto with port  and and gorgonzola, tortelli stuffed with truffles, stuffed artichokes, grouper with grain mustard, foie gras, tuna steak with sesame and couscous,  and fillet of veal roasted in a crust.
Prices: More or less 35, without wine
Open for brunch on Saturday, and for dinner on Thursday night. Closed Sunday and Monday 
 Emiliana Tortellini
Via Ariberto 17
Milano (MI)
Eating lunch at Nadia Magnani’s pasta factory is like going to your favorite Italian aunt’s house in the hills of Italy’s most famous pasta making region - Emilia Romgana. It goes without saying that the pasta dishes are exceptional. Yes, there are other things to eat, but it’s the pasta, in every way, shape and form, that steals the show.
Prices: If you try really hard, you can spend about 15 euros, without wine.
Open from Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and on Thursday and Friday nights for dinner.
 Bottigliera da Pino
Via Cerva 14
Milano (MI)
This old fashioned trattoria is always busy with the hustle and bustle of waiters bringing home style food to discriminating locals.  The most popular dishes are risotto, soups, quiche and a Lombard staple, boiled beef.
A fixed price menu includes a first and second course with a side dish, a half bottle of mineral water and a quartino of wine. 
The trattoria is only open for lunch but you can reserve the restaurant for a private party of up to 50 people.   
Closed on Sundays and evenings.
 Triennale Caffe' Design
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6
Milano (MI)
A splendid location in the first floor of Milan’s number one design museum. Huge windows that look out on the green expanse of Parco Sempione.  Chef David Dalma serves up some pretty spectacular dishes, including some created by award winning  chef, Carlo Cracco.  The food may be gourmet, but it won’t bust your budget.  For a first and second course expect to pay between €20-€25 euros, and Sunday brunch is priced at €28.  Closed Mondays.
Via Tagiura 5
Milano (MI)
Tel: 02
Tagiura is a resturant that you might mistake for a bar.  But once inside, walk past the bar and enter into a elegant dining room with a menu to match. Stuffed pasta dishes reign here, including tortellini and ravioli and all the other classic favorites. Look for gnocchi with zucchini flowers drizzled with melted butter, Cremonese ravioli stuffed with beef that has been cooked in wine, leek soup, cheese ravioli in meat broth and topped with a spoonful of Lambrusco wine, roasts, and a wide selection of cheeses.
At lunchtime a first and second course are priced between €10 and €15 euros. The price increases slightly for dinner and range from €25 - €35 excluding wine.
Open for dinner on Thursdays and Fridays, and closed for lunch on Sunday. Reservations are essential.
 Frutteto Viel
Via Amatore Antonio Sciesa 2
Milano (MI)
Tel: 335.25.50.06
Break out your Sherlock Holmes hat and magnifying glass – this restaurant is hard to find. However, if you succeed you will be rewarded with an array of dishes, including vegetarian dishes, such as eggs and asparagus, ravioli in a sweet pepper sauce and meatballs with rice. The menu varies according to the season and what is in the marketplace.
Prices range from 7-13 euros.
Open for lunch daily, and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
 Da Teo
Corso Como 3
Milano (MI)
If you long for the taste of the culinary treasures of Puglia, da Teo is the place to go. Managed by Antoinette and Teo, this tiny restaurant delivers the flavors of the south with traditional favorites like orecchiette with cima di rape, tiny lampascione in oil, puree’ of fava and that southern relative of bruschetta, friselle.
If the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of Corso Como. A first and second course is about €15.
Closed on Sundays and never open for dinner
 Il Bacaro del Sambuco
Via Monte Napoleone 13
Milano (MI)
Il Bacaro del Sambuco is the little sister of Restaurant Sambuco on Via Messina in Milan. And like her big sister,   simple, traditional dishes that are light and sophisticated are the order of the day. If the weather is warm you can    sit in the restaurant’s sheltered courtyard, or choose the elegant dining room.
Open only for lunch. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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14 August 2011

LIFE: The Venetian Mission

SARONNO, Italy - Gary was in Venice on Friday, or most specifically he was on the Venetian island of Murano looking for special glass fish that his brother had asked for. This isn’t the first time Gary has taken two trains and a water bus to find replacements for broken Murano glass souvenirs for friends and family.  
 Island of Murano
He left Saronno at 6 AM and the next time I saw him it was close to 9PM. Getting to the island of Murano from Milan isn’t exactly like getting in your car and driving to the local mall. It’s a long and sometimes arduous process, especially in August when there are thousands of tourists who have the same idea.

For Gary, the most difficult part of the trip was not the 2.5 hour ride on the Freccia Rossa, Italy’s new high speed train, or even the half hour ride from Saronno to Milan’s Central Station.   It was the 1.5 hour long wait at Venice’s Santa Lucia train station, standing in line to buy a ticket for the water bus to Murano.
 A Water Bus at the Bus Stop
For those of you who don’t know Gary, he’s a walking, talking party. Wherever he goes, colorful balloons, shooting stars, sparklers and exploding confetti follow him. And he talks to everyone, which can be a definite advantage if you speak Italian, as Gary does because some of the people that he talked to in Venice on Friday gave him some very good advice. 
As he explained his mission to the woman standing in front of him in the line to buy water boat tickets at the Santa Lucia train station in Venice, she suggested turning right instead of left when he got off the boat in Murano. 

 Venetian Glassmakers at Work
Now that may not seem like such a big deal, but when you get off the boat in Murano the first thing you see is a man directing tourist traffic to the left. That move takes you directly to the large glass factories – and more importantly the large glass factories show rooms.

That’s fine if you are there to visit the glass factories, but Gary wasn’t. By turning right he avoided the large factories altogether and discovered a dozen or so tiny shops, all selling – what else but– Murano glass. And since he was there to buy a specific item, small glass fish that are suspended from a clear glass balls giving the impression that the fish are floating freely, that was exactly the right move.
Making a Fish 
I wish I could tell you that he found what he wanted in the first shop he went into, but he didn’t. As you can imagine, he was feeling pretty discouraged by this time. His stomach was growling, his back was aching, but he pressed on. And then a kind store clerk told him that he could probably find what he was looking for at Pesce Pesce, which was just a little bit further ahead.

Pesce Pesce turned out to be a shoe box of a shop with thousands of colorful glass fish hanging willy nilly from the ceiling, from hooks from just about anything you can hang a small glass fish from. So fish they had in abundance, but not the kind that you suspend in a bowl.
 The Fish
And then Gary had an idea. He asked the clerk if it would be possible to make the glass balls – after all, the owner of the shop had made, or more accurately blown, all of the glass fish on display. Surely he could make a simple, clear glass ball that Gary could attach to the fish.

The clerk called the owner of the shop out of the back room, the “furnace” room, and he said yes, he absolutely could do that. Eureka! Problem solved! It would take a few days, but it could be done. He said he would make them and ship them and they would arrive in Saronno by Monday – oh oh, Monday, not good. 
  Which Way is Saronno?
Monday is August 15th, the most important summer holiday in Italy and everything will be closed. The only way the glassblower would be able to get those glass balls to Saronno on Monday would be by carrier pigeon – and if they are Italian pigeons, even they may be basking on some sunny shore along the Mediterranean that day. 

But whenever they do arrive, I will forward them to Gary and another successful Venice mission will be completed.

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11 August 2011


SARONNO, Italy Today is cooking day at Auntie Pasta’s. Gary and I are going to make ravioli nudi – a simple but very delicious vegetarian dish. The Italian ‘nudi’ is a variation of a classic dumpling dish found all over the world.

Ravioli Nudi
In France they are called quenelles and they are made with fish, egg whites and a choux dough, the same choux pastry that is used for cream puffs and heaping spoonfuls of thick cream. It's the choux dough that inflates the quenelle as well as binds the mixture, a trick of classically trained chefs. It’s a much more complicated recipe but absolutely delicious, especially when served with a Nantua sauce. The Japanese also make a type of fish quenelle, adding their flavors of ginger and soy sauce.

 So Easy and Sooo Delicious
This Italian quenelle recipe is the most simple and straightforward of all – like almost all Italian food. It makes a great first course, especially in the summer when you want light and fresh tasking food.
Also on the menu is peach semi-freddo, but whether or not we get around to making it is another story. We tend to get caught up in conversation and run out of time.
 Easy as 1,2,3
Ravioli nudi (Naked ravioli)

• Preparation time: 30 minutes
• Cooking time: 15 minutes.
• 2kg fresh spinach.
• 500g ricotta.
• 2 eggs.
• 150g Parmesan.
• 2 tbsp flour.
• Salt.
• Pinch of nutmeg.

Clean and wash the spinach. Cook for ten minutes in a saucepan with just a small amount of boiling, salted water. When the spinach cools enough for you to handle, squeeze out the excess water and finely chop.

Place in a large bowl with the ricotta, eggs, grated parmesan, flour and a pinch of nutmeg. Mix well until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended together. Form the mixture into small pellets, or as Artusi suggests, little croquette-shaped cylinders, about three centimeters in diameter.

Bring approximately three litres of water to the boil. Add the salt and drop in the "naked" ravioli. They are cooked when they rise to the surface. Remove with a strainer and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Serve immediately in warmed bowls with a sauce,

Small nudi are best and less likely to fall apart during cooking You will need about nine little nudi per person.

You can serve these with a tomato sauce but in my humble opinion anything but sage and melted butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese is too heavy.

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07 August 2011

LIFE: Milan's Cathedral

SARONNO, Italy – My friend Gary is coming for a visit next week. One of the things we are going to do is go into Milan, do some shopping and re-visit the Cathedral. The last time Gary was here, the Cathedral was wrapped in scaffolding, undergoing a much needed facelift. He’s going to be surprised when he sees the new and improved version.
 Milan's Cathedral
It took about 180,000 hours to clean the 35,000 feet of blacken marble. In addition to the scrubbing and polishing, there was a fair amount of restoration work done as well and that took the quarrymen and marble sculptors another 150,000 hours work in the quarry and marble workshops. All in all it added up to about six years of labor intensive work to return the Gothic masterpiece to its original glory.

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1386 and went on until 1965 when it was officially declared completed, but in reality it has never been completed as work continues still. “What are they building, another Cathedral?” locals ask whenever a construction project seems to be taking longer than they deem necessary. 
The View From the Top
Inside the Cathedral there are so many things to see it is easy to pass giant candlestick in the left-hand transept. But if you take the time to give it a closer look, you’ll see that the seven-arm candlestick, known as the Candelabro Trivulzio, is masterpiece of intrigue.

First of all you start to realize that it is much larger than you first thought. From a distance it looks like a large seven-armed candlestick, but as you move closer you see just how big it is, an amazing 16 feet tall. 
The Candelabro Trivulzio
Between the darkness of the Cathedral and the dark bronze of the candlestick it takes a minute to focus in on the details. But as your eyes adjust to the low light, you see the swirl of bronze leaves that hide dozens of strange figures, including animals, saints and angels. The base is made up of four dragons, their drooping heads form the feet of the candlestick, and their powerful tails point upwards to create the basic structure. Strangely, each of the dragons is being attacked by a pair of animals.

If you come up to the candlestick from the south side you see a foot made up of a dragon being attacked by two frightened monkeys wielding swords. To the left, and at the very bottom, is the head of a fantastical animal with a curved beak and curling horns. 
 Detail of Candlestick
Above this, to the left, is the figure of Noah in the Ark with one of his sons looking out from the right-hand side. Noah has his hands in the air, having just released a dove. Move your eyes upward and to the left and you see the dove returning, with an olive branch bringing the message to Noah that the flood has come to an end. To the left of the Ark, there is a flashback to before the Flood, with two sheep on their way in.

To the right of Noah's ark, Abraham is swinging a large sword. He is about to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom he is holding on the altar. Just above him, an angel has grabbed the sword to save the boy, and just under the little altar is the unfortunate lamb who will become the sacrificial victim in place of Isaac.

Above these two Biblical scenes are a king and a queen. They represent Virtues vanquishing the Vices, which are seen as smaller figures below. Next up are a group of star-signs, Cancer (the crab on the left) and Leo (a lion), with Virgo sitting above and between them. 

 The Lights Are Low
In the curling tail of the left-hand dragon, a female figure holds a serpent: this group represents one of the four Liberal Arts, dialectics. On the other side, in the right-hand dragon's tail, a young man is pouring water from a jar: this represents one of the Rivers of Paradise. They represent the four great rivers, the Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges and the Nile.

Now, leave the base and move up the central stem, past the first smooth node, to the central node. This is dedicated to Mary, who is seated on a throne, with Jesus on her lap. On the three remaining sides of this node, the three wise Kings can be seen on horseback, making their historic journey to see the Baby Jesus.

The strange dragons are strange indeed with no answer as to what they are all about.  Does the base of the candlestick represent the universe, with the rivers, the history of the world told through the Old Testament stories, and the stars represented by the astrological signs? All good questions, unfortunately at this point still no good answers.

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04 August 2011


SARONNO, Italy – To pick up on last week’s discussion of minestrone, here is a recipe that I like. Keep in mind there are  as many ways to make minestrone as there are vegetable in the market. Some ingredients are essential however: carrots, celery and onions, the holy trinity of Italian cooking. If you start with those three and add what you find at your greengrocer, you can’t go wrong. 
 The Beginning of a Wonderful Dish
In the summer Italian serve this soup at room temperature. In fact, if you go into a trattoria, you will see bowls of minestrone soup sitting out on the appetizer table.

Minestrone Ingredients

1.5 liters water (or half water half prepared vegetable broth)
2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
4-5 fresh basil leaves
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
1 can of Borlotti beans (or Canellini beans)
2 medium potatoes
50 grams tomatoes (canned)
Small bunch parsley
3 stalks of celery
2 zucchini
Olive oil
*salt (if you are using canned broth, which is salty, taste your soup before adding any additional salt)
In a large pot, sauté the chopped onion, celery and carrots in olive oil at medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring to cook evenly. Season with salt and pepper, then add the rest of the vegetables. Add enough water (or half water half broth) to cover all vegetables in the pot, plus 1 inch.
 Chopped all the Vegetables the same size
Raise the heat to medium-high to bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer on low flame for 30 minutes. Add the canned beans with their water. Let the soup cook for another 10 minutes for the consistency you want.  

If you are adding pasta, I’ve found it is better to cook the pasta separately and then add the cooked pasta to the soup. Season with salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
 Chop, chop and chop some more
Serve in deep bowls with sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and crusty bread.
 Add the Veggies to the Pot and Cook
Cooking tip: cut the vegetables all the same size so they take the same amount of time to cook. For a  taste of the Italian Riviera, top each bowl with a teaspoon of fresh pesto.

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