31 May 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Longing for Lentils

SARONNO, Italy - The Italian island of Ventotene is not exactly a household name. It’s a tiny little volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 25 nautical miles off the coast of Gaeta, right at the border between Lazio and Campania. The island is less than 2 miles long (3 kilometers) and less than half a mile wide (800 meters). Today, 708 people call Ventotene home, but back in the days of the Roman Empire, Ventotene was not a place you wanted to be, in fact you could say it was an ancient Alcatraz.
 Island of Ventotene
It was called Pandataria back then, and it was a strategic maritime hub that anchored the Roman trading empire. The Emperor Augustus radically transformed this remote barren island into his personal seaside resort and a thriving port community. Engineers of today marvel at what the Emperor constructed 2000 years ago, including a system of underground aqueducts that harvested rainwater and an impressive man-made harbor, hand-carved from the seawalls. 

Augustus may have turned the island into a thriving resort, but it soon became infamous as the island where he banished his daughter Julia in 2 BC. It seems Julia was the Paris Hilton of her day, and her father did not approve of her wild and wooly ways. He decided that perhaps she needed a time out, a five year time out, and so she was sent to Ventotene to rethink her behavior.

Apparently banishing unruly children was the thing to do back in those days because the Emperor Tiberius banished his grandniece Agrippina the Elder to Ventotene. And Agrippina’s youngest daughter Julia Livilla was also exiled there – twice. Then there was Claudia Octavia, the first wife of the Emperor Nero. She was banished to Ventotene in 62 AD and even Saint Flavia Domitilla, the granddaughter of the Emperor Vespasian, was banished to the island. She is the same Saint Flavia Domitilla the catacombs in Rome are named after.

So it is easy to see why, in the past, people were not exactly rushing to go to Ventotene, especially women.

But that’s all changed. Today, Ventotene is once again a resort island made newly famous as the place where five ancient Roman ships were recently discovered. The ships are between 1,600 and 1,900 years old, and were laden with - among other things - wine, olive oil and a fish sauce called garum, which is much like the fish sauce used today in Asian cooking. 

It was not easy to grow food or develop a cuisine on an island made of volcanic rock, but with a little help, one plant seemed to thrive, red lentils. And from the red lentils, the Ventotenese made zuppa – soup. This is a perfect summer dish as it is served, like so many Italian soups, at room temperature.
Zuppa di Lenticchie di Ventotene

Serves 4
250 grams of lentils (any color will do)
350 grams of tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1 bay leaf (or a few basil leaves)
Extra virgin olive oil

The original recipe calls for dipping the tomatoes in boiling water for a half a minute and peeling them, cutting them into quarters, removing the seeds and dicing them. Honestly, you can use any good quality canned tomatoes and save yourself a lot of time and still get good results. 

Lentil Soup
Carefully check the lentils to eliminate any tiny stones or foreign debris, and then wash them in abundant water.

Put the lentils, the garlic clove and the chopped tomatoes in a casserole dish with about 2 liters of water. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and let it cook for about 45 minutes (or until the lentils are tender, but not mushy). Add a little more boiling water if needed. 

When the lentils are cooked, add salt and serve the soup in a shallow bowl with an added drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature. If you want, you can also add some cooked rice to this dish.

27 May 2012

LIFE Give Me a Little Kiss

SARONNO, Italy – Had to laugh at how shocked Will Smith was when the reporter kissed him on both cheeks. He (Will Smith) took it as a personal affront and reacted by slapping the guy. I’m sure the reporter was stunned by Smith’s reaction since cheek kissing – one on each side - is a normal greeting in many parts of the world, Italy for one, the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Latin America too. Even in Quebec, Canada it is normal for people to give each other “un bec.”
You Do It Like This
It’s as common as shaking hands, a standard greeting among friends, both male and female, young and old. But there is a right and wrong way. The trick is to lean forward, turn your head and lightly touch the other persons cheek with yours, first the right cheek and then the left.  You can actually kiss them (barely a touch) if you are close friends, or fond of each other, or just air kiss. 

Here in Italy, the two kiss is standard, I’ve also seen three. In France sometimes they do four, it’s called “faire le bise.” The number of kisses  varies from country to country, but they do kiss. Which is why I’m sure the reporter was taken aback by Will Smith’s reaction. Smith looked like he though the guy was putting a move on him, while nothing could have been further from the truth. 
Poor Will Smith, He Was All Confused
In Central and South America, they are not quite as kissy as Europeans so they only give one kiss, usually on the right cheek, unless of course the person is a complete stranger. Complete strangers get no kisses, they get a handshake. The next time they meet they may kiss, but no kissing on the first encounter. 

Cheek kissing between men is less common in Central and South America, it’s that macho thing, you know, except in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay where it’s common between men friends to kiss “a la italiana.”  This can get a little tricky if one person is trying for a cheek kiss with someone who’s trying for a handshake.
Don't know what the green thing is, but it's the only photo I could find of two guys
So, Will Smith, the guy wasn’t trying to put a move on you, he was simply trying to show you he likes you by greeting you in the way he knows best, although in most cultures, cheek kissing is reserved for people who actually know each other. The Spanish and Portuguese are the exception. Those hot blooded Latins always kiss women, even those they are meeting for the first time. Men, don’t kiss so much, but men hugging each other is very popular. It's probably a good thing the reporter didn't try to hug Will Smith. He might have gotten a punch in the nose instead of a sissy slap.

The only exception is the UK where cheek kissing is reserved for family and friends – but not necessarily men. In fact the video is from a UK business training site and it shows the right and wrong way to cheek kiss in a business/social setting. 

20 May 2012

LIFE: Underground

SARONNO, Italy –  Last January, when they were working on the restoration of the large  bronze statue of King Vittorio Emanuele in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, they found a tunnel under the statue. Now they’ve found seven rooms. The rooms are all interconnected to the central vertical shaft, which was used to lower workers inside the statue. They also found the point where, in all probability, the last worker left after completing the work. Why they are there is a mystery. No one knew about them, not even the City of Milan.  
Piaza Duomo, Milan - Statue of Vittorio Emanuele on the right
 Secret tunnels are nothing new in Milan. There are secret tunnels in other parts of the city as well. Under the Sforza Castle, for example, there’s a tunnel which Leonardo da Vinci called the ‘strada secreto dentro’, the secret street below’. No doubt it was the ace up Duke Ludovico Sforza’s velvet sleeve as the Duchy of Milan was not only a hotbed of local uprisings but a prime target for outsiders, ready to attack at the first sign of weakness. No doubt the secret road was his plan B,  for in those wild and wooly days, you just never knew when it would be prudent to slip out the back door and take the secret road out of town.
 Sforza Castle in Vigevano
Ludovico applied the same strategy in Vigevano. At that castle, his favorite, there are underground tunnels that lead to a wide, covered road that run from the center of the castle to the outer edges of the town. Leonardo da Vinci was working for the Duke when he remodeled the castle in Vigevano, and designed the royal stable. (See http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2010/01/on-road-vigevano.html

There are also tunnels under Duomo of Milan. Most of the tunnels were built in secrecy so it’s difficult to know if they were built when they were building the Duomo, during the time of Duke Ludovico, or later. Were they built to save the treasures of the Duomo in case of an all-out attack, which in actually did happen in 1499, when the French King Charles VIII invaded Milan, or later, and used when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the city in 1796? 

But it doesn’t end there. There are also secret tunnels under Milan’s Chamber of Commerce. As much as I would like to think that they were built in an attempt to save the Chamber member’s skin from hostile crowds, the tunnels were, in fact, built a long time before the Chamber moved to that location. So, whoever was there first, felt the need to have a secret get-a-way just in case they got caught doing what they shouldn’t have been doing, or maybe not. Maybe that’s just my imagination at work.
The Pope's Fortress - Castel Sant'Angelo
Truth is, there are secret tunnels and getaways under most Italian cities. In Rome, there is a secret passage  from the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo. Some records claim it was built by Nicholas III in 1277,  but others say it was built by the anti-pope John XXIII (1410-15). What is certain is it was repaired by the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, later in the fifteenth century. The narrow corridor was built within the thickness of the wall and during the sack of Rome in 1527, it enabled Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican and take refuge in Castel S. Angelo.  
The tunnels were often used as secret escape routes, but in Turin, the King used his tunnels as storerooms for wine and cheese and other foods. He also put his alchemists down there, under the city, to mix and stir and brew potions, with the ultimate goal of discovering the secret of how to turn base metals into gold. They never did, of course, but it couldn’t have been easy climbing out from the dank and dark tunnels every day with the King waiting at the other end.

Gold Plaques on Royal Palace Gate in Turin
You can tour the tunnels under Turin, it’s a fascinating world. You can also tour the tunnels under Naples, but those were built for still another reason. The Naples tunnels were built by the Romans to carry water to houses throughout the city.  
These stories fascinate me, all of the stories fascinate me, they are part of the joy of this Italian life.

17 May 2012


SARONNO, Italy -  I was looking through some of my cookbooks the other day, kind of browsing for an idea for this week’s column, when I realized that I was automatically excluding a lot of recipes. I was deciding what recipes you would like and which you wouldn’t like. 
 This May Look Like a Dog's Dinner But it's Really Beef Pizzaiola
Some of the recipes had inherent problems simply because the ingredients would be hard to find outside of Italy – roast piglet for example, a simple recipe which starts with: carefully clean and wash the piglet, take out the entrails and rub it first with lard, inside and out, and then with salt and pepper. Another recipes I think is too Italian, which is the exact opposite of not being “Italian enough, like roast chicken, is roast pajata. That recipe starts with: take the skin off the entrails and cut them into long slices which you will tie into rings and sprinkle with vinegar. What are entrails, you ask? Intestines. 

There are more recipes that are too Italian than there are of those where the ingredients would be difficult to find.  I was thinking about this because I talked to my cousin Ginny today and it got me thinking about the time she came to Milan to see me. As it happened I was going to a luncheon that day, so knowing she was flying in, I made a reservation for her as well. 
 The Ingredients for a Delicious Octopus Salad
When we arrived at the hotel and everyone was seated at the table, the waiter brought out the first course: an antipasto of seafood salad. There may have been a mussel or two in that salad, but what I remember most is the look on Ginny’s face as she looked down at the cold octopus tentacles in her plate that had been lovingly dressed with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

She told me later that looking around the table at the mostly non-Italian women, she didn’t think anyone was going to eat the starter, but when she looked again everyone had cleaned their plate, including me.  I was happy for the cook, because preparing an octopus is a lot of work. It’s not like you just cut it all up into little bits and throw it on a plate. 
Octopus Salad  Looks a Little Better When It's Served
First you have to remove the eyes and then the beak in the center of the tentacles. Then you have to turn the head and take out the bag of black ink that the octopus carries around with him so he can let out a spray of black ink if another fish is closing in and trying to eat him. He’s like the James Bond of the fish world.  Anyway, you must take the ink sack off and then pull out the intestines. After you have given your octopus a quick wash,  you have to beat the beast with a rolling pin for a very long time in order to make the flesh more tender. 

Somehow I don’t think it’s worth continuing with that recipe, so let’s move on to something else, something I know my friends and family would actually eat: Carne Pizzaiola.

This is a simple and fast recipe that is also very tasty because the meat is cooked in tomato sauce and flavored with parsley and oregano. You can serve ‘pizzaiola’ with mashed potatoes, or rice or even cous cous, it goes with just about everything.

2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
600-800 grams of beef slices (500 grams equals 1 lb.)
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
400 ml of tomato sauce
2 tablespoons of parsley
Salt Q.B.

In a good size frying pan, put the olive oil (1), the garlic (2) and let the garlic cook until it is golden brown. When it is golden, add the tomato sauce (3),

The oregano (4), the parsely (5), and the salt. Let it cook for a few minutes until the tomato sauce starts to thicken a little. Then, if you have not already beaten the beef slices to a uniform thickness, do that now (6),  

And then add the meat to the tomato sauce (7) and mix it well so that the meat is well covered with the tomato sauce (8). Cover the pan (9) and let it cook for about 6 or 7 minutes. At this point, turn the meat slices over, cover the pan again, and let them cook for an additional 5-6 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The trick is not to cook the meat too long or It will become tough. Serve immediately.
(photos from: yellow saffron)

13 May 2012

LIFE: Give Me the Simple Life

SARONNO, Italy – So I spent much of yesterday just looking at all my ‘stuff’ and wondering how I am going to fit everything into a one bedroom apartment. I’m trying to get my head wrapped around moving into a much smaller space in my new push to simplify my life.
Piazza Sant'Ignazio, Rome
I’ve already cleaned out the book cases and the closets, or at least I thought I had cleaned out the closets until I came across a large plastic bag filled with un-ironed tablecloths. Storing table cloths un-ironed is an old habit I acquired somewhere along the way when I didn’t have enough room to properly store them ironed.  I figured one ironing was just about all the effort I wanted to put into a tablecloth. 

During the past couple of months that I’ve been apartment hunting, I’ve become more and more concerned. It’s obvious I have too much furniture and in spite of my gargantuan effort to clean stuff out, I still have too many clothes.  I also have to re-think my office space and decide if I really need to have a printer and a scanner on my desk. And what about all those shoes? 
 How Small is Too Small
In this land of wine and honey, simple storage solutions are hard to come by. This is a country that doesn’t understand closets. It’s like living in a land of turtles. When they move they take their closets - and kitchens -  with them. I’ve stopped asking why.

When I first came to look at my current apartment (which had been remodeled by an architect who obviously spent time in the USA) and the real estate agent opened the door to what was clearly a linen closet – positioned in the hallway right outside of the bathroom – and said to me, “this is for your shoes.”  It took me a minute to realize he had no idea what that space was about, nor did he know the smaller closet next to it was a utility closet, a convenient place to store a vacuum cleaner and other such things.
 Ms.Zorzo (photo Corriere della Sera)
So as I contemplate these minor inconveniences that I need to find a solution for, in this morning’s Corriere della Sera, Milan’s  newspaper, there’s an article about Carla Zorzo, a woman who lives in 13 square meter apartment (which is roughly 10 x 13 feet)  in the center of Milan. Ms. Zorzo says it was a good choice for her simple because her monthly expenses are relatively low and it’s an easy space to keep clean. She’s happy that   she only pays 650 euros ($840 US) for the space, including heat and hot water.

She did admit she misses her TV – no room for it – but she has everything else, including a dishwasher. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like much of a bargain to me. 
 It;s a Little Tight in Here (photo orriere della Sera)
A few years ago a 55 square foot porter’s closet in a building in Rome was converted into an apartment. There is a ground floor bathroom, shower and sink and a sleeping platform just big enough for a single twin size bed, that you access via a ladder. If you want to look out the small window to see what the weather’s like in the morning, you have to climb over the bed.

The best thing about the apartment is the location, it’s very near the Piazza di Sant’Ignazio, home to a beautiful Renaissance cathedral. Your neighbors aren’t too shabby either. Just a few blocks away is the super-lux private residence of Silvio Berlusconi, the venue for his now infamous ‘bunga-bunga’ parties. Who knows, maybe you can wrangle yourself an invitation, if you are into that sort of thing. Anyway, it’s all yours for the bargain price of 50,000 euros ($64,000 US). 
 Piazza Sant'Ignazio, Rome
Actually, that apartment is somewhat appealing to me, or it may be that I’m just missing Rome this morning. It certainly would eliminate the decisions I’m having to make as to what to keep and what to get rid of.  

10 May 2012


SARONNO, Italy – It’s the first week in May and I’m getting ready to harvest my first crop of herbs. With all the rain we’ve had this spring I’ve got a bumper crop of sage, marjoram, thyme, oregano, Roman mint and rosemary growing on my kitchen balcony. I’ve stuck with woody perennials instead of tender annuals like basil and parsley not just because they don’t need to be planted every year, but also because they are the herbs I used the most.
Basil from my garden
Harvesting my herbs several times during the spring and summer months encourages the plants to grow and gives me enough herbs to last through the winter. And honestly, I’d rather use herbs I’ve grown myself than buy them pre-packaged in the grocery store. I know my herbs are from this year’s crop and pesticide free and have not been sitting around in a warehouse for who knows how long.

It’s a good idea to clean your herbs before you dry them. One easy way is to fill a large bowl (or your sink if you are cleaning a large amount), with cool, salted water. The salt water will drive out any tiny insects that may have found a home in your plants. Rinse them in clear water and spin them in a salad spinner and then blot them dry with paper towels. Then you can either lay them out on a clean dish towel or paper towels to dry, or do what I do which is tie them into a bundle and hang them upside down to dry.
 My herb garden
When they are completely dry, which takes several weeks, you can strip the small leaves off of the stems and put them in jars. You can put a sheet of newspaper or baking paper and strip them on that. That way it is easier to pour the leaves into jars. 

At the end of the season you can either cut your annuals, like summer savory, right down to the ground. They will reseed and comeback the next year. With woody perennials like sage or winter savory, it is best not to harvest the whole plant, but to leave about 2/3rds of it. 
 Roman Mint makes artichokes sing
Rosemary does well in a pot and if you live in an area where it gets really cold in the winter, you can bring them indoors and they will do well. Rosemary does like a cool, well lit location so don’t put the plant on a warm window sill. I don’t bother drying or storing rosemary because I find it easier to cut pieces of fresh rosemary when I need it.

 I don’t grow basil or parsley as I find it easier to buy those two herbs at our outdoor market, and since they are so readily available I don’t bother drying and storing them. I do, however, put the bunches of parsley in a glass of water and keep it in the refrigerator until I need it. But apart from that, there is something uniquely satisfying about having my own little herb garden on my balcony and being able to go out there and cut what I need when I need it. 
Oregano, so small, and so tasty
If you decide to try growing some herbs of your own this year, don’t waste your time starting them from seed. It’s easier to buy the plants and then replant them at home. Not everything works. I planted garlic this year and that was a complete failure. But I think I’ll try it again, maybe I just started it too early. Anyway, there is very little to lose and a lot to gain, even from a couple of plants on your windowsill.

06 May 2012

LIFE: An Apple a Day

SARONNO, Italy – A few weeks ago I had to go back to the National Health office and have my “pink card” updated. A pink card is a list of codes related to tests and treatments connected to a person’s chronic diseases. It is used by family physicians when they are writing prescriptions to indicate that the person receives the test or medication gratis. Otherwise, in my case for example, I would be required to pay what is called a “ticket”, a surcharge for every prescription or test, which for me would be $2.00 per prescription.
 Entrance to Gaslini Children's Hospital, Genoa, Italy
The latest chronic disease to be added to my “pink card” list is high blood pressure. I’m happy it’s only that. I’ve had some pretty scary tests the past few months, including a PET scan. The idea of having a radioactive substance injected into my body and then traced by sliding me into the maw of what looks like a space capsule, well, let me say this, one of my Italian daughters had to go with me and hold my hand. So much for my frontier, independent, I can handle this myself spirit.

When I became a legal resident, I was issued a National Health Card but never thought much about it. I just continued to make private appointments just as I had always had in the United States. But then my rheumatologist asked me why I didn’t use the National Health System (Mutua) instead of paying to see her privately.

“It’s the same,” she said. “When you call to make an appointment with me and they ask you if you want a private or a
Mutua appointment, just tell them Mutua. "Nothing changes," she said, "it's always me and it's always this office, it's always this hospital and you won't have to pay anything.” So that's what I did.

Some of the doctors and researchers at Gaslini Hospital, Genoa, Italy
I have had CAT scans, sonograms, MRI’s and all sorts of specialized exams over the years and have paid for none of them. I've spent a week in the hospital, have had physical therapy, eye exams, visits to the dermatologist and the list goes on, all covered with no additional out-of-pocket costs for me now that I am officially retired. The system really works, and it works well. 

There are a couple of things I really like about the Italian health care system. One is that you keep your own records, test results and X-rays, and pick the doctors and the care facility, be it public or private, you want to go to. It wasn't like that when I lived in San Francisco. I had to travel across the city to go to the HMO that was listed on my company’s plan. Not only was very inconvenient but I had no choice of anything. I had to be satisfied with the HMO facility and the doctors who worked for that HMO.  

I thought perhaps things had improved in the years I've been gone so I was shocked the other day when an American friend of mine told me that she tried to renew a prescription and the pharmacy told her the insurance company would not allow it. The insurance company would not allow it? The pharmacy told her the renewal had been refused. The insurance company, or better yet a clerk at an insurance company gets to decide what prescriptions can be refilled and which cannot? And America is OK with this? And the latest scam is the drugstores in her area (Buffalo, NY) refill your prescription on their own and then call you to come and pick it up. I can only imagine how many people feel obligated to pick up prescriptions they may not even need any more. It's disgraceful.

 Laughter is still the best medicine
Americans are against a single payer health care system where you and your doctors make the decisions because of why? Have they forgotten what the word 'choice' really means?

This is the same friend who told me her primary care physician 'gets mad' if she wants to see a doctor outside of his medical group. Besides, she said, they don't like to share information with other doctors who are not part of their group. When I suggest she might want to keep her own records and see whatever physician she damn well pleases she told me she doesn't want to ask for her records because her doctor will be upset. The doctor will be upset? So?

Gaslini Hospital - They Saved Him
I think some Americans are reluctant to embrace a national health care system because no one tells them how these things really work. The insurance companies hire lobbiest to lobby Congressmen to oppose the system simply because they want to keep the status quo. It's in their best interest - but it is not in America's best interest, not by a long shot.

With a national health plan you eliminate the middle man - the insurance company - and when you do that health care costs go way down. Not only that, but then you get to decide where and when and who takes care of you not a clerk in an insurance company who is under orders to cut costs because the company is more concerned about their quarterly profits than your health  - and I don't know about you, but  for me that’s what health care choices are really about.  

I actually do know a thing or two about insurance companies, I've worked for several in my day. I have heard with my own ears insurance salesmen telling clients that when their insurance policy was paid up they had to cancel it and get another, because it was only valid if they were paying on it. I have seen with my own eyes two sets of rate books, one for blacks and one for whites, used to calculate the amount of money a policy holder could borrow against their policy. Guess who got the lower rate? I have seen a lot of things when I worked for insurance companies, and none of them were ever in the interest of the policy holder.  

Is the Italian health care system perfect? Not by a long shot. It's only Number 2 in the world according to the World Health Organization. Perfect no, but then again, what is?

03 May 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Savory Sardinia

SARONNO, Italy - Saffron isn’t what you would normally think of as an Italian spice, but in reality it is a fundamental element in a lot of Italian dishes. In Sardinia, one of the key saffron producing areas, it flavors and colors casadinas and pardulas, small cakes filled with pecorino or ricotta cheese that has been mixed with a little sugar. You’ll also find it in a popular dish from Cagliari called fregula cun cocciula (pearly pasta much like couscous), mussels soup, and bugnoluses de casu friscu, delicious croquettes made of fresh pecorino cheese.
 Beautiful Sardinia
With Sardinia’s strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the island often fell prey to passing pirates and marauders, and many of them left traces of their visit behind primarily in the cuisine. But which of the many invaders introduced saffron to the island is difficult to say although the name saffron comes from the Arabic word “za’faran”, which means yellow. It probably arrived in Sardinia sometime between the 6th and the 9th centuries thanks to the Basilian monks who used it in religious ceremonies and as a fabric dye. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages, that it was used as a spice. 

All that we know for sure  is the crocus flower, which produces the yellow stamen that is saffron, has been growing in Sardinia since the XVI and XVII centuries.
 Precious Saffron Threads
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world, and often sells at a higher price than gold. It is a labor intensive operation. The crocus bulbs are first planted by hand and then harvested by hand, starting in the shadowy hour just before dawn. If the flowers are picked later in the day, the petals are sticky and it is difficult to separate them and remove the stamen threads from the flowers.

The next step in the process is to gently heat the stamen threads over almond wood coals to intensify the flavor. Then they are set out to dry, packaged and sold around the world. Here are two easy recipes using saffron, the first, using butterfly pasta, is from an old Italian recipe book I’ve had for years called Le Ricette Classiche, Classic Recipes, and the second, I found on seriouseats.com.
 Butterfly Pasta with Zucchine and Saffron

Butterfly Pasta with Saffron and Zucchini
Serves 4 
300 grams butterfly pasta
160 grams of zucchini
20 grams of parmesan or grana cheese (grated)
1 teaspoon of saffron threads
1 clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil

Put the saffron to soften in a small bowl with a little hot water. Clean and slice the zucchini. (the recipe says to peel them, but I never do). Peel the garlic and let it soften in a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then remove it from the pan. Add the zucchine to the pan, let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes , turning when needed, and then add the saffron and water it softened in. Let cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime boil the butterfly pasta in salted water. When cooked, drain and toss with the zucchini and a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and thyme. Serve in individual dishes, sprinkle with the cheese.

 Fregola with Potatoes and Peas
 Saffron Fregola with Potatoes and Peas
Serves 4-6
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 medium, waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 8 ounces)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
A small pinch of red chili flakes or peperoncino
1 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
1 cup fregola
1 cup frozen peas
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano 
Extra virgin olive oil for finishing

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy, deep sauté or sauce pan with a tightly fitting lid. Add the shallots and smashed garlic and sauté briefly, moving them around the pan with a wooden spoon. Season with a pinch of salt and add the potatoes to the pan, coating them with the oil; sauté the potatoes for a minute, moving them around the pan often.

2. Add the broth and water to the pan, followed by the saffron threads, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, then lower the heat slightly and cover the pan.

3. After five to seven minutes, test the potatoes with the tip of a paring knife. They should begin to turn tender, cooked about halfway. Add the fregola to the pan and stir, bringing the liquid back to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue to cook the fregola, stirring frequently as the liquid evaporates, for 10 to 12 minutes.

4. Uncover the pan and test the fregola for doneness, remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme, and adjust the seasoning. If necessary, you can add more water to pan as the fregola continues to cook, a few tablespoons at a time. When the fregola is almost completely tender, add the frozen peas and lemon juice to the pan and simmer for three more minutes, stirring until the peas are tender, the fregola cooked and the liquid almost completely evaporated.

5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parsley, grated cheese, and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.