Italian Spring Break

Artichoke field Montelupone
Artichoke field in Italy
artichokes market in Fano
Carciofi at Market

Are you ready for an Italian Spring Break? Begin by changing your mind set with a new attitude and create a lifestyle that values beauty, art, culture, good food and wine. Spring foods in Italy include spring peas (primavera piselli), asparagus (asparagi), fava beans and spring lamb (agnello) and artichokes (carciofi).  You’ve never eaten artichokes Italian style! Carts loaded with artichokes appear at the outdoor markets all over Rome in springtime. Their long stems and leaves are still attached, which helps to keep them from drying out. Italian cooks know that the stems are as tasty as the artichoke hearts. They only need peeling and can be cooked right alongside the artichokes. Take an Italian Spring Break at home by preparing agnello al forno con patate arrosto (Spring Leg of Lamb roasted with Potatoes and fresh rosemary) and Braised Artichokes paired with a Valpolicella from the Veneto region of Italy.

To prepare Arrosto di Agnello, or Roast Leg of Lamb you will need

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3  cloves of garlic
coarsely ground black pepper and salt
one leg of lamb at room temperature
1/2 cup extra olive oil
few drops of wine vinegar

PREHEAT oven to 450 degrees F.

STRIP the leaves from the sprigs of rosemary. Chop 1 sprig of rosemary and garlic into small pieces, combining the ingredients. Mix with a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Make cuts here and there over the leg of lamb and stuff with the garlic mixture.

ANOINT the lamb well with good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on more coarse salt and pepper. Put the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and place in a hot oven to sear the meat (20 – 30 min), lower the heat to 375 degrees to cook the lamb through (1 – 1.5 hours). BASTE occasionally with extra virgin olive oil which you can brush on with the other sprig of rosemary and once or twice sprinkle on a few drops of wine vinegar. If your oven has a revolving spit then use that instead of the rack and pan. NOTE: Tuscans like their lamb to be well cooked with a crusty salty exterior. They do not carve the lamb into slices but break it into large chunks.

The Vatican Film List

Even though the Oscars are over I’ve had movies on my mind and this led me to an unlikely source for film reviews. Certainly not as well-known as Ebert and Roper or as infamous as the web’s Rotten Tomatoes, a pontifical commission was established in 1995 by Pope John Paul II to  select  “worthwhile productions” during the first hundred years of modern cinema.  It seemed John Paul II was a film buff and wanted to acknowledge the contributions of the industry on their centenary celebration.  This social conscious Pope felt that movies where a “universal medium with a profound influence on the development of people’s attitudes and choices”.

I’m not sure if Pope John Paul II would have considered this to be a catalog of his favorite movies but he did consider them important enough to include in what would come to be called the Vatican Film List, 45 chosen films selected by a committee of twelve international movie scholars appointed by the head of the pontifical commission. The list was made up of 3 categories: Art, Religion and Values with 15 films in each of the categories. Some are well known favorites like the Wizard of Oz, others are more esoteric. They run the gamut from a wide screen Western (Stagecoach)  and a family classic (Little Women) to a Disney animated film (Fantasia) and a space odyssey ( 2001: A Space Odyssey).

As in any list, the selections merit attention according to the people who compile the list and you may not agree with all the choices. I certainly didn’t but I did find some interesting films I may never have known about.  Also the list was complied with the sensibility and norms of the 1990’s and we may well wonder what might have been included today. There was no imprimatur or ecclesiastical approval attached to the list, no thumbs up or thumbs down, no icons of rotten or fresh tomatoes, no stars, percentages or numbered order, no hint of papal infallibility only the word “important”.  Which means it is up to you decide if these are films of value. You be the critic.

The list for the 100th Anniversary of Cinema Pontifical Council for Social Communications 1995

Andrei Rublev * Andrei Tarkowsky (1969, USSR)

The Mission * Roland Joffé (1986, UK)

La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) * Carl T. Dreyer (1928, France)

La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ (Life and Passion of Christ) * Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet (1905, France Identified on the Vatican film list as La Passion Pathé

Francesco, giullare di Dio (The Flowers of St. Francis / Francis, God’s Jester) * Roberto Rossellini (1950, Italy)

Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew) * Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964, France/Italy)

Thérèse * Alain Cavalier (1986, France)

Ordet (The Word) * Carl T. Dreyer (1955, Denmark)

Offret — Sacrificatio (The Sacrifice) * Andrei Tarkowsky (1986, Sweden/UK/France)

Francesco * Liliana Cavani (1989, Italy/Germany)

Ben-Hur [A Tale of the Christ] * William Wyler (1959, USA)

Babettes gæstebud (Babette’s Feast) * Gabriel Axel (1987, Denmark)

Nazarín * Luis Buñuel (1958, Mexico)

Monsieur Vincent * Maurice Cloche (1947, France)

A Man for All Seasons * Fred Zinnemann (1966, UK)

Gandhi * Richard Attenborough (1982, UK/USA/India)

Intolerance * D. W. Griffith (1916, USA)

Dekalog (The Decalogue) * Krzysztof Kieslowski (1987, Poland) Identified on the Vatican film list as Il Decalogo

Au Revoir, Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children) * Louis Malle (1987, France)

Dersu Uzala * Akira Kurosawa (1974, Japan)

L’albero degli zoccoli (The Tree of the Wooden Clogs) * Ermanno Olmi (1978, Italy/France)

Roma, città aperta (Open City) * Roberto Rossellini (1946, Italy)

Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) * Ingmar Bergman (1957, Sweden)

Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) * Ingmar Bergman (1957, Sweden)

Chariots of Fire * Hugh Hudson (1981, UK)

Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) * Vittorio de Sica (1948, Italy)

It’s a Wonderful Life * Frank Capra (1946, USA)

Schindler’s List * Steven Spielberg (1993, USA)

On the Waterfront * Elia Kazan (1954, USA)

Biruma No Tategoto (The Burmese Harp) * Kon Ichikawa (1956, Japan)

2001: A Space Odyssey * Stanley Kubrick (1968, UK/USA)

La Strada * Federico Fellini (1954, Italy)

Citizen Kane * Orson Welles (1941, USA)

Metropolis * Fritz Lang (1927, Germany)

Modern Times * Charlie Chaplin (1936, USA)

Napoléon * Abel Gance (1927, Italy)

* Federico Fellini (1963, Italy)

La grande illusion (Grand Illusion) * Jean Renoir (1937, France)

Nosferatu * F. W. Murnau (1922, Germany)

Stagecoach * John Ford (1939, USA)

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) * Luchino Visconti (1963, Italy/France)

Fantasia * (1940, USA)

The Wizard of Oz * Victor Fleming (1939, USA)

The Lavender Hill Mob * Charles Crichton (1951, UK)

Little Women * George Cukor (1933, USA)

Letters from Italy

This header is from a letter sent to our Italian family in the US from our Italian family in Milano circa 1953.

Epiphania Trevisan, our Italian grandmother, immigrated to America in 1920. Like many Italian immigrants, circumstances of time and place, marriage and duty caused Nonna to travel to the US with her husband Santo. Her first child was almost born on the Re d’Italia, sailing from Genoa in July and arriving at the port of Staten Island, New York in August. Families with names like Paladini, Stratta, Fontana, Amerighi, Piccinini and Marasco were  part of the 2,020 passengers that made the trip with 3,000 miles of separation.  

But Nonna’s heart was still in the Veneto, a region in Northern Italy located in the Venetian plain whose cultural and culinary traditions make it one of the most visited regions of Italy today. The oral traditions of life in the Veneto were kept alive in our family and everyone was influenced by them. Families in the Veneto wrote to families in the United States, over holidays and birthdays, through wars and liberations, at births and deaths. Letters and pictures were sent, money and presents exchanged, dreams and disappointments lost and found.


Italians Are What They Eat

You’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat”. This slightly overused mantra has made its way into the vocabulary of food from proselytizing nutritionists to the voice over introduction on one of the Food Network’s most popular shows.  The Italians were eating healthy, nutritious regional food long before the term “locavore”, sustainability and week- end farmer’s markets became chic. So it follows that Italians are very concerned about the ingredients they use and most Italians I know would be the first to say that great ingredients make great recipes.


Here are 7 ingredients that no self-respecting Italian would be without.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Italians know that being extra virgin is better. For flavor, taste, aroma and health benefits extra virgin olive oil is absolutely better. It is the freshest oil you can buy, high in polyphenols and protective antioxidants beneficial to heart health. A wide variety of medical studies also document the benefits of extra virgin olive oil in controlling blood glucose levels and strengthening the immune system.

 Oregano and Rosemary – Oregano is a source of natural antioxidants and has as many antioxidants as 3 cups of fresh spinach and rosemary is known as an anti-inflammatory.  Both carry loads of flavor. Whether fresh or dried, rosemary’s sweet pungent piney scent and the herbal spiciness of oregano are the herbs of choice in Italian cooking.

 Tomatoes – Eaten fresh or made into a sauce, tomatoes are an essential ingredient in the Italian pantry. In the summer they are layered between slices of buffalo mozzarella, anointed with extra virgin olive oil and scented with fresh basil or used to make a panzanella, Tuscany’s simple yet sublime bread salad.  At all times tomatoes are the base for the Italian red sauce giving depth to hundreds of regional Italian recipes that have made Italian food recognized all over the world.   

Garlic – Garlic is the godfather of Italian cooking. Chop it, crush it, then, let it sit to release the aroma, enzymatic and cardio-protective benefits found in fresh garlic. Respect this ingredient; use it well and it will never fail to add just what you need to perfect your dish.  

Pasta – Confused about pasta, don’t be. The most flavorful pasta is artisan pasta, roughly textured to allow the sauce to better adhere giving a more uniform and consistently delicious flavor to each bite. Quality pasta ia a “good carbohydrate” made from semolina flour, which is ground from durum wheat with a low glycemic index (41).  Italians eat pasta as a small introductory course (primo piatto) to the meal rather than in Mount Vesuvius proportions typical of American style dining.

Grapes and Wine – The pivotal role of grapes and red wine in the maintenance of health is well documented.  In Italy wine is considered to be a natural resource, a companion to food, a link to the past, a tradition to be preserved and a respected ingredient in cooking.

Cheese – The soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses of Italy are not easily translated in the US. Americanized versions of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), Mozzarella and Ricotta are not the same as what you will find in Italy.  Regional cheese making in Italy is government regulated with strict guidelines for manufacturing with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law. Cheese in Italy is eaten as an accompaniment to a meal and enjoyed as an artisan product. It is often eaten as a dessert course with fruit.

Farewell Meat

No I haven’t become a vegan. I’m following the ancient Italian custom of Carnevale, the traditional Lenten fast that begins on Ash Wednesday when all feasting is over and fasting begins for 40 days until the celebration of Easter. The word “carne vale” in Latin means “meat farewell” and so abstinence from things of the flesh is de rigeur during this time. But before abandoning meat there is much feasting and merriment with festivals, parties and celebrations with fun, family and food. And since Martedi Grasso  is just around the corner, I haven’t got much time before I say farewell to meat. Here’s what I’m planning to do before Fat Tuesday ends.

Party Like a Venetian. Although Carnevale is celebrated all over the world it is at its best when celebrated in Venice. Viareggio, New Orleans and Rio di Janiero may disagree but the Venetian Carnevale has the history, romance and atmospheric feeling that make it an over the top experience. Carnevale in Venice transports you to another time and place where masks and twisted identities blur the lines between fantasy and reality and the excesses of the flesh are excused for the moment.

I unfortunately will be participating in none of the above but will indulge in the exquisite pastries and traditional foods of Carnevale in Venice such as fritelle, tiny doughnut like fritters often made with raisins, pine nuts or grappa and cenci, a bow-tie shaped confection also known as chiacchere, frappe or lattughe (lettuce leaves) because of their ragged appearance.

Experience a Venetian Carnevale in your own kitchen. In the kitchens of Cositutti there will be bigoli in salsa, a traditional Venetian pasta served with a sauce of olive oil with anchovies and fegato alla veneziana, liver with onions.  And to drink, a glass of prosecco as an aperitivo and a bottle of Valpolicella, a classic red wine from Verona, Venice’s not so distant cousin.


Journal the Journey

We encourage anyone who travels with us to keep a travel journal. First of all it helps you recreate your trip in your mind’s eye so that your memories are refreshed and more vivid. It allows you to keep a chronicle of events, places, time schedules, sights, things to do, things not to do so that if you ever take the trip again (or recommend it to a friend) you have a ready reference.  I always keep a few detailed notes about accommodations including room numbers and try to take time to look at other rooms if available.  That way I if I decide to stay in the same hotel, country house or appartamento, I’ll be able to request the room I want (if I was in Ferrara that would be the Hotel Annunziata on the Piazza Repubblica with a room that faces Castello Estense).  I also keep notes on where I ate with pictures.  Food eaten in the place of origin is very evocative and a picture is worth a thousand bites.  A journal can be used to record expenses and help you stay on budget. I recommend journals with indexes or pockets to keep receipts.

So think about journaling the journey. Your notes can be as spontaneous or as detailed as you want.  They can be organized in the classic Ciak or  Moleskine notebook (used by Hemingway), a sleek travel journal you picked up at or in an inexpensive composition notebook. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it because the words, drawings, photos, ticket stubs and bits and pieces of your trip will create memories that only get better as time passes. And if you’re worried about inspiration, don’t be. The act of traveling in and of itself has an uncanny ability to make you see yourself and the world in a different way and in the end you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.