Bellissimo Chiante!

 

A Chianti landscape

 

Ah, beautiful Chianti!

I had never been to the Chianti region so Umberto and Francesca decided to spend a Saturday showing me around a bit. There’s nothing better than spending a day with good friends, seeing the country, and eating good food.

We first visited Greve (pronounced gray-vay) in Chianti, which has a fabulous Saturday market intended for the local residents rather than tourists. I enjoy these more because I get to see how the markets really work, the prices are better, and they are simply more entertaining.

 

Greve market

These markets usually include everything from local produce and meat to clothing to personal care items. This particular market included cooking tools, ceramics, baskets, kitchen and bathroom linens, flowers, a few pastries, meat, fruit, vegetables, and bread. If you need it you can probably find it here.

 

 

Greve market

 

These markets can be entertaining because Italians take their local markets very seriously. There is a lot of bargaining, some arguing over pricing or among each other about who saw what first, and much visiting with vendors and friends. The atmosphere is usually jovial and energetic, and this market was no exception. They are normally very busy, and Italians line up for nothing. So if you ever intend to visit one these markets, be assertive and sharpen your elbows!

What did I buy? I found kitchen towels and table linens at incredibly good prices. There is also a very good dried cherry that seems to be offered only at these markets. I buy a couple hundred grams whenever I find them.

 

Greve market, Mmm... ciligie secco! (dried cherries)

 

The other city we visited is a pretty little hill town by the name of Panzano in Chianti. We stopped here because I had seen the church tower over the trees and wondered about it.

 

Panzano

 

Panzano has that old world charm we see in photos of Italy. It is not a town that sees many tourists which means it is not cluttered with tacky souvenir stands. You see Panzano as it is, and it is beautiful!

 

Panzano

 

We ended the visit with lunch at a place called Antica Macelleria Cecchini, owned by butcher and chef Dario Cecchini. He seems to be rather well known in the area. No wonder, the food was great, the price was terrific, and the entire experience was, well, fun.

 

The restaurant mascot

 

There were two menu options. That day the menu offered the following: For 10 euro you received a half pound burger Tuscan style, roasted potatoes, vegetables, bread, and water. Dario calls it playing “with the concept of high quality fast food”. For 20 euro you were given some of Dario’s “butcher shop specialties”. That day this included raw vegetables and olive oil, Chianti sushi (beef, not fish), Chianti tuna (pork actually), roasted pork, meatloaf “Dario style”, bread, and water. Of course you want to sample the fabulous vino, so that is a little extra.

We ordered the second option, and that was enough for the three of us. With the Chianti  wine this was probably the best lunch I’ve had!

If you visit the Chianti area I highly recommend a visit to Panzano, and to Antica Macelleria Cecchini. You will not soon forget the experience!

 

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Pomodori and Finocchio. Yum!

 

Pomodori (tomatoes) in Tuscan garden

 

Here are two yummy recipes featuring tomatoes (pomodori) and fennel (finocchio). They are very simple to do and both make a perfect side dish for your meals. And a big thank-you to Francesca for these recipes!

Baked Tomatoes

Many of you are probably doing some version of this, but I will include it for those who, like myself, sometimes forget about these simple dishes.

  • Medium to large tomatoes, cut in half.
  • Olive Oil

Place tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake slowly to desired dryness. I would suggest setting the oven to 250 or 300 degrees. 45 minutes to an hour is about right for getting just the right dryness. Keep in mind it might take a little experimenting with your oven to get them the way you like them.

You can, of course, be creative and vary this recipe to your individual tastes. Add bread crumbs on top, and good herbs to add are basil or oregano. Parmesan cheese can also be added for variety. Experiment and make the recipe yours!

Fennel

 

Finocchio (fennel)

 

Ok, those of you who know me pretty well know that I do not care for fennel seed or the dried herb. But the bulb? I had never tasted the bulb before this trip, and really couldn’t imagine that I would like it. However, being one to try most things at least once, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really like the bulb in both it’s raw and cooked forms. In the raw form it adds taste variety to salads and is simply good by itself. The simmered version adds variety as a tasty side dish.

  • Fennel bulb, or bulbs depending on how many you are cooking for.
  • Water for simmering. You don’t want too much water. It’s better to add water as needed.
  • A little salt if desired.

Slice fennel to preferred thinness and place in pan. Add water and simmer slowly until soft but not “mushy”. Now enjoy!

This is a very basic recipe that can be varied for variety if you prefer. Try simmering until not quite done, then place in a baking pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with bread crumbs and back 5 or 10 minutes. Try adding parmesan cheese on top. Herbs might be another option, perhaps a little tarragon. Again, experiment and make it yours.

 

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Ciao Bella!

Piazza Del Popolo

Most of us know about the Italian greeting “ciao”. But where did this common greeting originate?

According to Roberto, the greeting began centuries ago as “Schiavo Vostro”, which translates as “I am your slave”. It was not meant in the literal sense, but as a high sign of respect for the person being addressed, as in “Schiavo vostro Signor Mazzantini”.

According to Answers.com and a site called The Smiling Eggplant, the phrase is from the Venetian dialect (sciao vostro). “Schiavo” was the word used for “slave” and refers to the slavic people who were slaves in Venezia after being conquered by the Venetians.

As Roberto related to me, this was eventually shortened to “Ciao Vostro” and has now become simply the informal greeting “Ciao”, with the original meaning lost to most people.

So, now that I know what this popular greeting actually means I will use it with a little more discretion than before.

Auguri!

Padova Market

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Pisa and Arezzo

 

Pisa, Piazza di Miracoli

Before I get started… I have updated my photo album with my photos of Roma, Perugia and Padova. You can see them at http://picasaweb.google.com/drnorberg931/Italy201002#. Enjoy!

Pisa

Pisa is bella (beautiful), but I just can not warm up to this city. This is my second visit and the feeling is the same. Yes, it has interesting places, like Piazza di Miracoli, where the famous Leaning Tower is located, many churches, and many other attractions. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s just not “my city”.

That said, I actually went to Pisa to see an art exhibit featuring Joan Miro, which was good. After the exhibit I walked around the east side of the river for awhile just to see what that side of town has. A disadvantage about going to Italy in October is that it is the  “low season”, when there are fewer tourists (ideally-it depends on the city). This means that many of the old churches and museums will be closed to the public during the week. The exception is Piazza di Miracoli which is almost always full of tourists. It includes not only the Tower, but also the Duomo and Baptistery. The photo of the Duomo and Tower you see at the top was actually taken two years ago during my last visit to Pisa. I have more photos of the Piazza, Duomo and Baptistery. If you are interested in seeing them please let me know. I like to share!

 

Pisa

 

Arezzo

 

Arezzo

 

Ok, this town I like. In fact, I would recommend a full day here to see it properly. Two days might be better if you are like me and prefer to spend a lot of time at those most interesting sites. Arezzo is simply beautiful. The Duomo was closed to the public the day I visited. Even so, there is much more to experience. The park behind the Duomo is open to the public and is absolutely beautiful. It includes a sculpture dedicated to the father of poetry, Petrarcha (I read that somewhere, but I can’t now say where). Petrarcha was a resident of Arezzo in the 13th/14th centuries. Dante was influenced by Petrarcha’s poetry, and they are said to have been good friends.

 

Arezzo, Petrarcha

Besides the sculpture, a visitor can see part of the old medieval walls around the city and fabulous hilltop views of the city and surrounding hillside.

 

 

Arezzo

 

One chiesa I found open was Basilica di San Francesco. There are a number of great paintings by a painter aptly named Piero della Francesco. His paintings were magnificant, but the highlight for me was Cimabue’s famous cross. Magnificent!

 

Arezzo, Cimabue cross

 

Here are a few photos from Arezzo. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them. This little town is definitely on my list for next year!

 

Arezzo, old city walls

Arezzo, public art display

Arezzo, Basilica de San Francesco

 

 

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And now for Your Viewing Pleasure…

…a few scenes from Villa Borghese in Roma.  I will get the full set of photos uploaded tomorrow.

 

Villa Borghese, Roma

Villa Borghese, Roma

 

Villa Borghese, Roma

Villa Borghese, Roma

 

 

Villa Borghese, Roma

 

 

Villa Borghese, Roma

Villa Borghese, Roma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fellini, Chagall and Chocolate

 

Perugia, Eurochocolata 2010

 

Ok, I know this is out of order, but I think you will enjoy hearing about this trip now.

Roberto had a meeting in Perugia today and invited me to ride with him as he would be traveling to Firenze from there (we’re returning for Umberto’s retirement party). After the meeting we intended to walk around the historic center (centro storico) but, I’m afraid I don’t have much about Perugia’s historic center. It is a beautiful city to be sure, but two things were happening that became a bit more interesting.

First was the exhibit Teatro del Sogno da Chagall a Fellini at the National Gallery of Umbria. This show was fabulous! It included Chagall and Fellini, but also other artists and film greats including Man Ray, Samuel Becket, Hitchcock, Ernst, Bunuel, Dali, Chirico, Warhol, Klee and more. The show featured an ongoing film in a dedicated area for each film great. The common link, I believe, was surrealism in the artistic works. Chagall a Fellini was well worth the entrance fee, which was good to start with. Molto bella!

 

Perugia, Eurochocolata 2010

 

So, what about the chocolate? Well, there just happened to be a festa di chocolata (festival of chocolate) going on in the historic center, Eurochocolate. It happens every year here. Of course, Perugia is famous for it’s chocolate. There are more than a couple of chocolate producers here. I have seen one brand, simply named Perugia, in the US. But there were companies from around the world including Rocco, Lindt and a Mexican brand. One company, Milka, came with a ferris wheel to entertain the crowds.

 

Perugia, Eurochocolata 2010

 

The restaurants and pastacerrie (pastry stores) also got in on the fun by offering all their best chocolate creations. Store windows were packed to the ceiling with decadent displays of chocolate candies, chocolate torti (cakes), chocolate filled goodies, chocolate crepes, and just about anything else that can possibly be created with chocolate. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the store windows; the combination of shadow and noses pressed against the glass made a good photo impossible.

I love hazelnut (nocciola in Italian) and bought some terrific hazelnut chocolate from another Perugia company by the name of Bacetti (pronounced Bachaytee). Yum!

Oh, and did I mention that free samples were everywhere? Yeah, molto buona (very good)! It’s probably a good thing for me that we could only visit for a short time.

 

Perugia, Eurochocolata 2010

 

A more thorough exploration of Perugia’s historic charms will have to wait until next year.

Ciao Bella!

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Oh Yeah!

I have updated the photo site on Picasa with new photos from the Chianti region and my first day in Roma. Check them out at:

http://picasaweb.google.com/drnorberg931/Italy201002#

A presto!

Dana

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