30 May 2013

AUNTIE PASTA; Tiella di Gaeta

CHIAVARI, Italy - There may be a lot of things to see and do in Gaeta, but  the two main reasons for going there are the food and the beaches. Seeing that the town is equal distance from Naples and Rome, this little city on the sea is a major get-a-way destination for both of those metropolises.
Aragonese Castle in Gaeta  

Gaeta kicked off the summer season last weekend with a food fest that was really a love fest for the town’s most famous dish, the tiella. I’ve written about tiella before, that Auntie Pasta post was called Song of the South, (http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=4191681270252851547#allposts), but that was the tiella from Bari. This is a whole ‘nuther thing.

So how can a tiella from Bari be different from a tiella from Gaeta? The secret to that little mystery is that “tiella” isn’t what you are eating, it’s what the thing you are eating has been cooked in. A tiella is a type of pot with a lid. It comes from the Latin word tegella, and it changes depending on where you are in Italy.
Tiella Fest

In Modena the original Latin tegella becomes tigella, in Puglia it’s tieed, in Lazio and Campagna it’s tiella and in Abruzzo it is tijella. The word has come to represent the things cooked in it, much like Americans say casserole,” which is actually a French word for saucepan. 

And not to go too far astray, just as the word changes from the original Latin, depending on the area you are in, what goes in the tiella changes as well. In some regions a tiella is a kind of focaccia, sometimes with a filling and sometimes without. In other areas it is complete meal that is layered in the pot, but without a crust.
Tiella, Tiella and More Tiella 
And then there is the Gaeta tiella, which isn’t like any of the above. In Gaeta, it not only has a crust, it has two of them, one on top and one on the bottom, like a pie except it isn’t filled with apples or cherries, but fish or vegetables.

There’s a humptydoodle story about the origin of Gaeta’s tiella that says it was invented by Ferdinand IV of the Spanish house of Bourbon. The Spanish House of Bourbon was a powerful royal dynasty that at one time or another ruled most of Europe. For that reason alone I find it hard to believe that good King Ferdinand put his lily white hands in the dough one day when he was out fishing with the natives, and made the first tiella. He just doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who’s going to sit down and have a beer with you, let alone start messing around chopping fish and rolling out dough. 

Gaeta’s tiella is not hard to make if you are a cook. Because Gaeta is on the sea, the most popular fillings are octopus and squid, along with a few tomatoes to keep the filling moist. Other good fillings are fillings sardines, anchovies, escarole and cod as well as spinach, zucchini and onions. Not all at once, of course. The secret of a good tiella is to keep the filling soft but not soggy, the dough must be thin and well cooked and to use top quality ingredients, but you already know that.

Gaeta’s Tiella

500 grams of flour,
20 g of yeast,
3 tablespoons of olive oil,
200 ml of warm water,
1 kg of boiled octopus or squid,
50g capers,
100 g of Gaeta olives pitted,
100 g of peeled tomatoes,
parsley, pepper, salt

For the Crust

Combine warm water, yeast and oil in a small bowl.
Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
Stir in liquid mixture onto dry ingredients, mix well.
Knead by hand for 5 minutes on floured board.
Transfer dough into covered and oiled bowl.  Let rise in a warm, draft free place for 1-1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.

For the Filling
While the dough is rising, you can prepare the filling by chopping the boiled octopus or squid into small pieces and drizzling it with olive oil, parsley, pepper and tomatoes. Then add the pitted olives and capers, and mix.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Take half the dough and roll it out just as you would a pie crust, and layer it in a greased tiella pan (or deep dish pie pan). Add the filling, distribute it evenly, and cover with the second half of the dough. Then seal the edges of the two crusts together.

Let it sit (in a warm, draft free place) for about 45 minutes, then bake in a preheated 180°C oven for at least 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Let sit for about15 - 20 minutes before serving.

26 May 2013

LIFE: All Roads Lead to Rome

CHIAVARI, Italy - Rome was the first city in Italy I ever lived in, and like a first love, it holds a special place in my heart. I was there to study Italian. Through the school I found a room to rent on the Via della Vite, near the Spanish Steps. The apartment was owned by an old woman named Niola, and her only other ‘tenant’ was a girl from Argentina who was also going to school in Rome.   
S[panish Steps

I don’t know what she was studying, or anything else about her as she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian. But we got along ok, she didn’t take up space on my shelf of the refrigerator and I didn’t take up space on hers.

Every weekday morning I would take the bus from Piazza San Silvestro out to the school on the Via Nomentana and spend four grueling hours trying to get a grip on Italian grammar. It was torture trying to wrap my tongue around all the complicated verb forms, but thankfully, from one o'clock on, the day was my own and oh how I treasured it. 

Via Condotti 
I loved living in the center of Rome.  Every afternoon as the stores re-opened from their mid-day break, the narrow streets of my neighborhood, which included the famous Via Condotti, would slowly fill with people of every age, Romans and foreigners alike. I used to spend hours walking those streets, window shopping and dreaming of the day I would live in Italy forever.

It was great fun to look in the windows of the oo la la fancy shops on the Via Condotti, but more interesting were the small open air markets that seem to sprout up from one day to the next like giant mushrooms after a rain. I found them irresistible, especially the food markets.  Growing up in a country where most foods come pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped, I loved being able to buy three egg, six carrots or just one potato, if that was all that I wanted.  No one cared. It didn’t matter. Everyone shopped that way, and they still do.

Trevi Fountain 
On days that I didn’t have school, I would walk to the small outdoor market near the Trevi Fountain to do my weekly grocery shopping.  I would cross the Via del Tritone, go up Via del Stamperia, then turn and head toward the vendors. It was just at that point, near the corner bar, that I would be greeted by a Rudolph Valentino look alike who bow ever so slightly and say,  "Buon girorno, Contessa."  I'd stutter and stammer and finally come out with what I hoped was "and a good morning to you too." 

Now I know that in Italy everyone calls everyone else cara or carrissima, or caro if it’s a guy, or Contessa or any of the other hundreds of endearing names and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Even my slightly senile landlady, Signora Niola, used to have imaginary conversations that always started with ‘ciao cara’ and continued as she walked around the apartment  talking to ‘her.’ At first I thought she was talking to me, but she wasn’t, so I got out of her way.

 Trevi Market Looked Something Like This

But I liked the Trevi market and if having this guy call me Contessa was the worst that was happening to me, it didn’t seem bothersome enough to worry about. The Trevi market was not organized like most of the other markets in the city, it was more of a meeting place where farmers sold their produce and goods like honey and jams and wine. You had to bring your own bottles if you wanted to buy wine, and they would fill them from the barrels they had on the back of their trucks.

My favorite stall was run by a very old woman who sold live chickens and eggs. She would wrap the eggs, one by one, in torn off squares  of newspaper, hand them to me to put in my shopping bag, and then hold out her wrinkled hand for the money. She never spoke to me. I later figured out that it was probably because I was actually asking her for two or three grapes, confusing the Italian words for grapes and eggs and she realized any attempt at conversation would most likely be a complete waste of time.  

Daily Market at Campo Dei Fiori

There are open markets in most of the city's neighborhoods. One of the best is the one at the Campo de'Fiori. There are two very different versions of how the Campo got its name. The most obvious is that before it became part of the city, it was a meadow of flowers. It's a nice story but I prefer the Roman legend which says the Campo was named after an actress named Flora, who lived during the time of the Caesars. Her theatre, which was the largest in ancient Rome, used to stand on what is now the northeast corner of the square. Or it could very well be that both stories are true. In Rome anything is possible.

Some of my favorite Italian memories come from those early experiences in Rome, and every once in a while I get a hankering to go back and walk the streets and revisit those early days, which is what is going on right now.

23 May 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Say Cheese Please

CHIAVARI, Italy - The other day I got to thinking about the things I used to bring back from my trips to Italy, and realized most of what I bought came from the Italian grocery stores and food and cheese shops. I would usually find wonderful things that easily fit into my suitcase, which were much more interesting and more appreciated that anything I could ever find in the souvenir shops.
 Happy Cow Makes Yummy Milk Which Makes Yummy Cheese
The food shops had things like bags of Arborio rice, the best rice for real Italian risottos and which I could not find at home, hand held graters, ravioli cutters, fun aprons, and of course real Italian cheese. Things are a little different now. Italian products are much more available in all parts of the world, but like Neapolitan coffee and chocolate from Modica, Sicily, some things just taste better here.

Number one buy on my list was Parmigiano Reggiano. It was, and still is, shrink wrapped and easy to pack, and so it made a great gift – especially if I was gifting myself. You can bring home any cheese as long as it is    shrink wrapped hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano. But if you find yourself looking longingly at a fresh cheese, like Sicilian burrata, go ahead and buy it along with some bread, a bottle of wine, a little fruit and have yourself a very merry picnic and bring the delicious memory home.

Here are some other types you might want to try while you’re here. They are not in any particular order. 

Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano – This cheese is probably one of Italy’s most famous. The name kind of hints at the fact that it comes from Parma, but Reggio Emilia, Modena, part of Bologna and part of Mantua can also claim ownership of this popular cows milk cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for eighteen to twenty-four months and is additive free and worked by hand using the same cheese making techniques that have been used for some seven hundred years.   

Bel Paese 
Bel Paese – Literally means “beautiful country”. This cheese was invented in 1929 by the Galbani Cheese Company in Lombardy. It is made from  pasteurized cow’s milk and sold in small discs in almost every grocery store. You can also buy a chuck of Bel Paese in most Italian food shops. Bel Paese is kind of like mozzarella as it has a mild, buttery flavor, but mild and buttery with tang. If you buy the disks you can bring it home and use it in casseroles and on pizzas, or eat it with crackers.

Pecorino Romano Bronzetto
Pecorino Romano Bronzetto – This may be the best of the northern Sardinian-made Sardoformaggi Romanos. The ancient cheese was once made in Rome and was given to the legionaries as part of their daily rations. The extra rainfall northern Sardinia provides lush pastures for the sheep to graze in. Bronzetto is dry-salted by hand for two months and then aged for another year. It has a sharp flavor, and not recommended for sissies.

Pecorino Romano Genuino 
Pecorino Romano Genuino – Often referred to as “Genuino” because of it’s Roman origins. Genuino is more crumbly and grainy than Bronzetto making it an excellent grating cheese.

Pecorino Toscano is part of the same family. There are strict regulations regarding how it is made. Unlike other pecorinos, Toscano is not aged so this young cheese has a flavor that hints of wildflowers, herbs and Tuscan grass. 

Burrata – If you like mozzarella you will love burrata. It looks a lot like mozzarella, but it has a creamy butter-cream center, which makes it unique. It comes from the southern region of Puglia and it has a very short shelf life so break out the bread and wine, eat and enjoy and bring the delicious memory home. You’ll probably find it wrapped in a large leaf, and if the leaf is green, the cheese is fresh. If it is not, don’t buy it. 
Fiore Sardo
 Fiore Sardo – This cheese is made in the hills of Sardinia from  unpasteurized sheep’s milk. It is also aged for three months which leaves it  slightly salty with a long finish – which means the taste remains in your mouth. This is D.O.P. protected cheese, but then again how could you expect anything else from a cheese named Flower of Sardinia. 

Fontina Val d’Aosta – The lucky cows who live in the celestial pastures of Italy’s Aosta Valley, near the border with France, produce the milk used to make this popular cheese. It is aged for 90 days, not long in cheese life, but it is still delicious because the cows eat the wildflowers and herbs from those pastures and they pass along the aromatic flavors in their milk. 

Mountain Gorgonzola
Mountain Gorgonzola is a sharp and tangy cheese from Italy’s Lombardy region. Mountain Gorgonzola doesn’t really come from the mountains, but it does have a white interior with attractive streaks of blue. In Italy this cheese is eaten drizzled with honey.

Pecorino di Sicilia
Pecorino di Sicilia – Dating back more than 2,000 years, this is an ancient cheese of sheep’s milk from inland Sicily. A tart and citrus-like flavor can be found in the sundried-tomato infused version. Other versions include chopped pistachio nuts and leafy green arugula.

 Umbriaco di Amarone
Ubriaco al Prosecco – An unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Veneto, coated with Proseco grapes must ( a by-product from wine-making). It has a clean, fresh flavor and is a perfect cheese to pair with wine.
Ubriaco al Vino is a semi-soft, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Friuli, aged for three months in a blend of Merlot and Cabernet wine must. No other cheese had been produced in this manner and creates a cheese with an unmistakable fruity flavor.
Ubriaco di Amarone – A five month-aged Monte Veronese washed in Amarone; a wine produced by drying grapes before fermentation to concentrate their sugars. This sharp and tangy cheese is also infused with grapey overtones. Umbriaco means ‘drunk’ in Italian, and has been rightly applied to these three wine infused cheeses.

Veneto d'Estate Vaccino
Vento d’Estate Vaccino – This Barricato, or wooden barrel-aged cow’s milk cheese from Treviso is buried under hay from the historic mountain of Monfenera during its maturation process. Vento d’Estate Vaccino is known for its barrel-wood, lilac, pear and straw fragrance. It has a rich, savory flavor.