Garlic is part of the culinary trinity of Italian cooking. Paired with asoffritto of finely chopped onions, celery, and carrots in a 2:1:1 ratio, it is the foundation of the dishes that define the cuisine of Italy. Slowly sautéed, hence the name soffrito (under-fried), the ingredients soften and release their flavor in an incensual bath of extra virgin olive oil or olive oil and butter if you’re cooking up North. Adding meat, chicken, fish or wild game complete the union and the flavor and aroma of a strong, robust clove of garlic provides a rich and complex note.
But if you’re looking for something more mellow don’t overlook the immature sprout that arrives in spring or early summer. This young, slender, yellow-green flower stalk or garlic scape, picked before it can form its familiar bulb, is known as green garlic and has a creamy, mellow, sweet flavor that can be used like scallions or chives. Green garlic is still garlicky, but with less of a bitter bite.
You can pickle or freeze dry the scapes (like chives), toss them in extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt, grill and serve the stalks with a grilled steak. Or make a delicious Italian frittata . . .
Depending on our generation, memories of Memorial Day in the US often focus on a wall with a mirror-like surface that winds its way through Constitution Gardens in Washington DC. A lasting impression and memory, it honors US soldiers who served, fought, died or were missing in action during the Vietnam War. Having lived through those times I always experience a sobering nostalgia about the casualties of war with diverse reasons why wars are fought.
Italy’s memories of war often reflect personal experiences of solders and civilians with events that conflicted the entire world. The Monumento alla Resistenza in Sesto San Giovanni designed by Piero Bottoni and Polish artist Anna Praxmayer is a concrete wall monument reminiscent of the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington. Scratched on its surface are not names but scenes that trace in thirteen stages the anti-Fascist struggle of the Italians during World War 2. Located in the Piazza della Resistenza, the wall gradually rises higher toward the sky with the sculptured form of Victory freeing a flight of bronze doves.
We visited The Wall several years ago with our Milanese cousin Lidia who now lives in Sesto. She like many other Italians of her generation have memories of bombings and hidings as children and families that lived through war, resistance and liberation. Lidia tells of being sent to live with relatives in Monza to escape the bombings of Milan and while riding her bike in Monza being caught in an air bombing. She showed us the building she hid in. The damage is still there. Having seen both Walls the damage of war is undenied.
The idyllic countryside of Sardenia is perfumed by the scent of myrtle, rosemary, juniper and strawberry trees. Found throughout the island, the wild arbutus, or tree strawberry, produces a fruit with an intoxicating aroma and a unique flavor that although resembles a strawberry doesn’t taste anything like one. I have eaten them ripe off a beautiful flowering strawberry tree in my friend’s front yard in Perugia (wild arbutus is grown as a popular ornamental hedge shrub throughout Italy) and as Miele di Corbezzolo, strawberry tree honey, drizzled over sebadas, a traditional cheese-filled fritter and a specialty of Sardinia. The honey is strong flavored and bittersweet.
Corbezzolo honey is part of the world’s global pantry as the wild arbutus is native not only to the Mediterranean but the Atlantic coast of Ireland where it is known as the “Irish strawberry tree” and the honey produced as Killarney honey. Mentioned in poetry and prose, immortalized by an artist in the Garden of Earthly Delights, used to makes jams and liquers – the apple of Eve may just have been a strawberry.
The 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 “the greatest spectacle in racing” is about to begin and we couldn’t help but appreciate the past and current history of Italian auto racing from Monza’s Grand Prix to Italy’s Mille Miglia, a thousand mile open endurance race notorious for fast cars and fatal crashes. Known as la corsa piu bella del mondo the race was first run in 1927 on a route from Brescia to Rome passing through some of the most beautiful cities and scenery in Italy including Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Siena and Mantua. So when we saw a post about a vintage goggle jacket nicknamed the “Mille Miglia” we took a second look.
Made by Massimo Osti (1944–2005), a graphic designer turned garment engineer from Bologna who liked to experiment with fabric (he created a fabric that changed color based on temperature), the jacket is more than race-inspired vintage fashion. Osti’s innovative designs extend well beyond auto racing and the original Mille Miglia goggle jacket has since been reconstructed and reformed in a collaborative partnership with fashion designer Aitor Throup to become a fashion statement and modern classic. The latest version was co-opted by Cuban sculptor, Yoan Capote whose personal interpretation of the Goggle Jacket was exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale turning it into a work of art on and off the race course.
Down a walking path from Palladio’s famous La Rotonda, just outside the city of Vicenza, is a jewel of a villa that although may not be as impressive as its better-known neighbor is nonetheless a delight. Although it’s looked over by dwarfs, it’s a far cry from Disney’s Hi Ho.
Villa Valmarana ai Nani (Villa of the Dwarfs) is a whimsical countryside villa near Vincenza that although mentioned in several well known guide books is often missed. Villa Valmarana ai Nani (Villa of the Dwarfs) built by Antonio Muttoni and his son Francesco is actually three buildings: the owner’s residence, a guest house (foresteria) and stables (scuderia). There is a small internal garden and a pagoda in the woods. The walls alongside the Villa are decorated with whimsical figures of dwarfs and there is a legend about the design, reminiscent of Shrek but unfortunately without the happy ending.
According to a local legend the stone statues of the dwarfs on the walls alongside the villa represent servants who were petrified upon seeing the beloved nobleman’s daughter thrown to her death, a result of unrequited love. The villa is across the road and up the hill from Villa Rotonda. It is a fair walk but worth the effort. The inside of the villa is as delightful as the outside. The frescoed walls of the villa are attributed to the father and son Tiepolos and are considered to be among the greatest examples of the fresco art of the 18th century. Be sure to allow enough time to enjoy the lovely garden which adds to the romantic storybook atmosphere.The Valmarana family still lives in the villa so only the villa’s piano nobile is open to the public.
Although writing has become a routine part of my day, like Stendhal I find time spent in Milan to be entirely devoted to leisure and love.
Milan and its metropolitan commune are home to a branch of our Italian cousins and flying into Malpensa has always been a starting point for my taste travels in Italy. Before leaving on an Italian version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria visiting regional producers (many now friends) that I source for my business, I spend time in Milan with la famiglia. Time spent with generational layers of the past wrapped around new memories of the present with a loving Italian family I am so happy to know. Wonderful times eating, cooking, shopping and seeing Milano through their eyes and getting to know Italy in a unique and personal way. Stendhal obsessed unhappily for years about the unrequited love of a woman he had met in Milan. He even wrote a book about it which, despite his unhappy resolution, does contain some very profound thoughts on love including this one which you might have heard “In love, unlike most other passions, the recollection of what you have had and lost is always better than what you can hope for in the future.”
Despite this Stendhal tells us that his time spent in Milan was the happiest period in all his eventful life. I can understand this. There is much to do and see in Milan and it is a pity that it is often overlooked by most Italian travelers.
On my last trip to Milan we spent the day with our cousins in Porto Genova, a neighborhood of Milan named after the city gate of the old Spanish Walls of Milan. The Navigli district is located in this quartiere, an artsy part of the city with trendy nightclubs, shops and restaurants and a series of artificial canals designed by Leonardo da’ Vinci. Da’Vinci wanted to design a navigable waterway to connect Milan to other parts of Italy. The marble used to build Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo, was transported on the waterways of Navigli from Lake Maggiore near the Alps to the center of Milan. I found myself at a ristorante near Giardini di Via Stendhal, a local park and a perfect place to enjoy a leisurely afternoon thinking that unlike Stendhal my recollection of love in past times only gets better on each trip to Milan to see our family.