Top ten reasons to be Italian (and live in Italy) cont.

Today’s continuation of Top ten reasons to be Italian (and live it Italy).

4.  You get to eat the BEST and BIGGEST Easter Eggs ever!

 

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Image result for italian easter eggs

Easter is taken seriously in Italy, and nowhere more so than with the giving and receiving of Easter Eggs.  They are the most colorful, ornate and decorated eggs I have ever seen!

 

 

5.  You get to lay down in the middle of the day.

Yes the siesta is alive and well.  And before you scoff just remember that Italy is one of the G8 countries which means it is one of the 8 most productive countries in the world.  (Confirming research that shows sleep and work/life balance actually contributes to sustainable effort) .  At 1.00pm until 4.00pm each day all shops and professional services (lawyers, dentists, doctors, accountants) shut their doors to partake in an appropriate lunch (Top 10 reason no.1) and then snooze, rest, sleep it off before starting the second half of the working day from 4.00pm til 8.00 (this doesn’t apply to office workers who have to power on with only a lunch and a walk followed by a stiff coffee to keep them going).  I particularly love this quiet part of the day where my suburb shuts down and a peaceful silence descends.

 

 

 

 

 

6.  You get to have two birthdays.

I love birthdays and was determined to make a big fuss over my husband’s birthday when we were first going out.  Imagine my surprise when four months earlier than his birthday, his parents, siblings, niece and nephew, God-mother, friends and colleagues all began calling early in the morning to wish him a ‘Happy Onomastico‘ (Happy Name-Day), delivering gifts and asking him ‘what was he was doing for his onomastico?’

It is a tradition in Italy to be named after a Saint or after a family member (who was originally named after a Saint) and each Saint has a special day of the year named after them.  San Vincenzo is April 5th and all those guys who are named Vincenzo celebrate their Onomastico on that day.  Same with San Francesco(a), San Guiseppe, Sant’ Alfredo, San Valentino etc.

There are cards, cake, presents, celebrations.  How is that not like a birthday?

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Next time, the last four top reasons to be Italian.

Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

Top ten reasons to be Italian! (and live in Italy)

1.  You get to savour lunch!

I have noticed the lunch hour, and even the concept of lunch, is dying out in many post industrial countries.  Not so in Italy, the inventor of the Slow Food movement.   In Italy lunch begins at 1.00pm.  Not 12.30 or 1.10 but 1.00pm.  No one questions you or where you are going at that hour.  Everyone knows.  It’s lunch time.  Lunch occurs mostly sitting down, mostly with company but not looked on strangely if it is taken alone.  It involves at least two courses, is followed by a coffee (cafe/short black) and a gentle walk.  It never occurs while walking or working.  If a good, nuturing and sustaining lunch is what you desire then pretend to be Italian for a day and take it!

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2.  You can eat pasta every day.

Not just for special occasions or only after you have laboured by making it fresh yourself, pasta is a staple and comes in a myriad of forms.  Pasta is eaten ‘al dente‘ (chewy) so that the flavour and texture can be truly appreciated, and is paired with seasonal produce and is therefore constantly changing.  It is part of every Italians’ diet and now even gluten free pasta is offered at most restaurants (by asking for it as it won’t appear on the menu).  Pasta is not only matched with seasonal ingredients (herbs, vegetables, fish and meat), the shapes, sizes and texture (ribbed or non ribbed) of the pasta are matched with particular sauces and ingredients to bring out the taste and texture of ingredients e.g. ribbed pasta with tomato based sauces  The thickness of spaghetti is also chosen depending on what it is served with.  Tip: never serve size no. 3 with seafood!

20130917_202754Rigatoni cacio e pepe –  one of my favourite typical Roman pasta dishes.  Sheeps cheese and pepper.  Sounds simple, is delicious.  Note it is served with ribbed pasta so that the cheese coats the pasta as you eat it – yum!

25122004(001)My mother-in-law Francesca’s Timbalo (baked pasta dish – every mother does one).  Francesca’s has fried pork meatballs in it and is sealed with fried eggplant.  The pasta inside this dish is usually penne, unribbed because the mixture is already dense and doesn’t need to stick to it.

 

3.  You get to experience four complete seasons, consecutively and well spaced (but don’t forget to follow the seasonal ‘rules’).

Each season is quite distinct in its weather, food, activities and lifestyle.  As everyone is impacted by the seasons at the same time it creates a sense of community – everyone is eating, doing and talking about the same things at the same time.  Where you will be going for your summer holidays, when the seasons last vegetables are available, how you will be celebrating this seasons’ saints days, what you will be eating for lunch that day are all acceptable conversations with complete strangers at the bus stop or with neighbours in your apartment block.  The first sunny day is not a reason to go to the beach unless it is after June 21st (the official beginning of summer) and if the heat continues into September it is still not a reason to wear your summer clothes as I recently experienced.  While walking in my local neighbourhood wearing my summer clothes (as it was 27 degrees), I overheard a person commenting to her companion how ridiculous I looked wearing them when it was now September and therefore clearly Autumn!

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If you’re not sure what to do in each season or how to behave, head to the Trevi fountain and look up.  The four statues at the top represent each of the four seasons in Italy and how they are personalised!

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Next week: more reasons to be Italian.

If you love this blog don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  A synthesis and first chapter is available on this blog by clicking on the ‘My book’ page.  If you have already read it please ‘like’ my FaceBook page, subscribe to this blog, write a review on Amazon, and tell your friends!

The Italian Pantry: How to Italianise a corner of your kitchen

Happy New Year to everyone!!

As I am now on my Christmas holidays I am borrowing from another fantastic blog from Italy Magazine for this month.  Happy holidays and Christmas season to all.  Will be back blogging soon!

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After spending a year in Italy studying its cuisine, in 1954 Elizabeth David wrote what is still considered one of the most comprehensive, if not the first English book about Italian cookery. This seminal work is called simply, “Italian Food”. The book has been reprinted over the years and still sells many copies in the United Kingdom – a testament to the great research and writing of the author.

If you are a fan of Italian food and enjoy preparing it at home, Elizabeth David stresses the importance of keeping an Italian larder – or pantry, for our American friends! Another bastion of Italian cooking is the talented Antonio Carluccio, who himself in his book, “Simple Cooking”, said, ‘In your larder keep a little of everything you think you will need for making the dishes you like to cook and eat.’

Italian Larder

So let’s take a look at what is required for the essential Italian larder:

Pasta

Keep at least three types of pasta in your store cupboard, a ridged one like penne or rigatoni for thick and meat based sauces, a thin ribbon such as linguini for thinner and seafood sauces, and a small one such as stelline or corallini for adding to soups and broths.

Rice and Grains

Let’s not forget that even rice is part of the Italian culinary traditon from North to South. Buy some Carnaroli rice for the perfect risotto or Sicilian arancini or farro for a traditional Tuscan winter soup.

Extravirgin Olive Oil

It goes without saying that every Italian pantry has olive oil …and yes it must be extra virgin Olive oil!

 

Herbs and Spices

The Italian pantry would be almost empty without this important section and, although keeping fresh herbs all year round such as basil can be tricky, there’s no reason why you can’t grow your own and store the leaves in the freezer, as freshly frozen basil is superior to dried; however, do find space for a jar of dried oregano. Rosemary and sage can be harvested all year round, so consider a plant in the garden border or on the patio in a pot. Capers and chillies, fresh or dried, along with salt and black pepper complete the herbs and spice section.

Onions and Garlic

They are the mainstay of many Italian dishes and onions, whether white, yellow or red, are the unwavering base of most sauces. Garlic peeled and chopped or rubbed over toasted bread has that incomparable taste that conjures up memories of a rustic Italian osteria.

Beans – Tomatoes – Tuna – Anchovies 

A can of chopped tomatoes makes a simple pasta sauce in a hurry if you add a few herbs and some chopped pancetta; a can of either cannellini or borlotti beans are great for adding to soups and salads. Tuna and anchovies in olive oil are great in pasta sauces or salads.

 

 

Breadcrumbs

They are used in many Italian dishes for making cozze ripiene (stuffed mussels) or for coating a hammered veal cutlet or chicken breast. Instead of buying them, why not make your own in the food processor!

Wine Vinegar

Vinegar is handy for adding piquancy to sauces and to store vegetable antipasti.

Luxury items like balsamic vinegar and truffles are also a great addition to the perfect Italian pantry, however, if your budget won’t stretch to dried porcini mushrooms, a pre-packed mix with field mushrooms is perfectly acceptable.

There is one item of the Italian larder that you should make a considered purchase: Parmesan cheese. Always buy the best quality that you can afford; I prefer one that’s aged for at least two years, it will keep for months in the fridge and is well worth the investment.

Once you have Italianised a small corner of the kitchen, you’ll be ready to start cooking great dishes, just like Nonna.

– See more at: http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/italian-pantry-how-italianise-corner-your-kitchen?utm_source=ITALY+Magazine+Newsletter&utm_campaign=d36ce3753d-ITALY+Newsletter+-+December+5th+2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7e828ebed3-d36ce3753d-402225#sthash.xQtaz8oI.dpuf

Remembering Franchy

A few months ago I wrote about my father in law, Antonio, in a blog entitled Antonio and Francesca – A love story, which mostly focussed on Antonio (Pa).  I promised to write the other half of story.  For those of you who can’t be bothered looking at that blog, a quick synopsis.  Franchy (Francesca) met Pa (Antonio) when she was 13 and he was 17.  They both lived in Taranto, a small town at the very bottom of Italy.  In the 1930’s both families struggled to meet both food and rent expenses on a monthly basis, and sometimes sacrificed one for the other.  Shortly after Franchy and Pa met and started ‘seeing each other’ clandestinely, war broke out and Pa, who was doing his national service, was sent off to fight.   He returned to Franchy several years later by walking home from Trieste to Taranto, a distance of tens of thousands of kilometres, and literally from one end of Italy to the other.  It took him a month, and happened as aresult of the Italian army surrendering to the Allies.   Pa was 19 when he returned to Taranto.

Antonio

Francy and Pa were married for 67 years.  They died within two months of each other.  Franchy had a stroke and was taken to hospital.  Pa thought she was never returning and died before she returned home.  His severe dementia meant he couldn’t understand where she was or the concept of time.  He just thought she was gone and wanted to go to.  Francy returned to an empty house and lived on for another two months before a second stroke killed her.  They brought up two children, one of whom is my husband, surrogate parented another two when their best friend lost his life early, and were grandparents to three others (besides their own) who lived across the hall from them.

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Today I wanted to remember Francy.  In acknowledgement of Mother’s Day I thought i would remember her from that perspective.

My first glimpse of what kind of mother Franchy was, and therefore how she had mothered my husband, came one Saturday morning when we had driven to Taranto for the weekend as we did regularly.  We were sleeping in the lounge room (family room) on a sofa bed.  The lounge room had a large balcony from which a basket on a rope would be lowered to the street to pull up groceries or deliveries.  Their apartment was on the fifth floor and there was no lift.  It was a ten flight set of stairs to walk up.  Francy and Pa were in their 70’s when I met them and did the stairs twice a day every day.  I could barely make it up once on a Friday night when I arrived and I often avoided doing it again until Sunday afternoon when we left.  The height of humiliation was that Franchy would often come and meet me half way and carry my suitcase for me up the rest of the flights as i struggled huffing and puffing behind her.

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Most of Franchy and Pa’s friends and relatives were in their age bracket if not older, so in order to avoid the stairs, if they were dropping something off, they usually just used the basket on a rope lowered over the balcony.  It was Saturday morning early and as usual the doorbell and telephone had been going since around 7.00am.   It always seemed to me that the elderly population of Taranto had nothing bettter to do than get up early and start visiting and calling each other.  The telephone extension was in our room, the doorbell very loud, and both parents a little deaf, so I had been woken up time and time again with “yes they are here and sleeping right now’, if only.

A timid knock on the double glass doors leading into our room and a stage whispered “Alfredo”. “Si, Ma”, my husbands response.  There followed a whispered conversation in dialect, in apologetic tones from Franchy.  Her uncle, in his nineties was at the entrance of the apartment block below.  He had made her some tomato pasta sauce and was dropping it off.  Would we mind if she came into our room and out onto the balcony and lowered the basket down so he could put in this precious sauce that he had lovingly hand made for her?  Alfredo said he would go out onto the balcony and lower the basket down and bring up the bottle of pasta sauce.  Franchy stayed timidly at the bedroom door.  I was still half heartedly pretending to be resting.

The basket was lowered, the bottle brought up inch by inch in the basket, over the balcony and the basket placed on the floor.  Alfredo picked up the bottle from the basket.  As he did so, his huge hands did not grip the bottle as closely as it required.  He fumbled, he stumbled, he reached out and up in a desperate attempt to keep the glass in his hands and like a juggler pretending to drop something, it slow motioned out of his hands and crashed onto the marble tiled floor, spreading tomatoe sauce and glass like an egg blown out of its shell.

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I was horrified.  He had ruined the gift so lovingly made and presented, by his clumsiness.  I was caught short by the sound of Franchy’s strangled laughter.  I looked over to see her bent double trying to contain herself.  And across at Alfredo with tomatoe sauce all over his hands and a distraught look in his eye.  At that moment I understood Franchy’s mothering and how Alfredo had turned out so marvellously as a human being and a husband.  Instead of punishment there was love, instead of retribution there was laughter, instead of anger there was lightness and mirth.  At that moment  I understood that Franchy’s playfulness, her ability to look on the bright side of life, her patience, her fortitude, her choice to live life through her heart and not her head was not a recent thing but were her hallmarks and how she had raised Alfredo.  And why he in turn was patient, playful, never took things too seriously, had an inate belief in himself, and lived life with through his heart as well as his head.

I was so jealous that my husband had had a mother like that and I glimpsed what made them a happy, healthy, and functional family.  And I wanted my share.  From that moment on I made sure I had as much of Franchy as she would give.  And she met my need head on and never once wavered.  After my miscarriages I put myself on a train all day to reach Taranto and spent a week with her without my husband present.  Silently sitting with her in the kitchen, watching TV, eating and resting for a week.  It helped heal my soul.

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Once when I tried to take a plate to the sink after lunch she almost arm wrestled me to the ground to get me to let go of it.  She told me that her name wasn’t ‘thank you’ so I should stop saying it every time she did something for me.   One day I let rip about how much i loved her vegetable soup, brodo, she made it for me every single time I visited even though my husband hated it.  He occasionally joked that his parents asked after me more than they asked after him.  It didn’t seem right to share that I had partly married him so I could get them as well.

Franchy didn’t ever read books, she barely spoke Italian preferring to stay in her dialect.  She had not attended high school and thought that going to the Post Office was the height of complicated, post industrial living.  She had never been into a bank.  Her sister came every week to set her still black hair.  When she was hot in the middle of searing Taranto summers she would strip down to a black negligee which she always wore underneath her dresses and apologise to everyone for her appearance but she was too hot to wear anything else.

Franca

She spent most of her days at the local market buying the food for the two meals of the day and then cooking it.  She always asked us what we would like to eat on the weekends we were coming down and she would spend days preparing it.  The food was always very simple pasta and meat dishes but were unlike anything i have every tasted anywhere else.  So flavoursome and I always ate double what i normally would.  At first I would try and explain that i really could only eat one or maybe two courses and to please not cook anything more.  To which she would solemnly agree.  Then after the first two courses she would shyly explain that she had just made a really small something else and would i mind eating it?  She would usually do this at least twice per meal until I just gave up directing her and accepted my fate to eat lovingly home cooked food until i could eat no more.

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I realised that this was the real way i could say thank you to Franchy.  She had almost no way of relating to me in the world i lived in of university degrees and world travel, of global organisations and several languages, of independant living and international friends but she could make sure that i was extremely well fed and that i didn’t have to spend any of my time on providing for myself in that way.  And she did a marvellous job.

And because of her example of and sharing with me of her patience, her fortitude, her playfulness, her living through her heart and not her head I often feel stronger, patient, positive, playful and have the courage to listen to my heart more than I would have had without her.  It is hard to live without her at times but it would have been harder if I had never had the opportunity.  Vale Francesca, Vale.  xxxx

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Top 10 things to eat in Rome!

I thought i would make this post a little lighter than the last one and focus on the one thing that brings joy to every heart, and travellor, in Italy – the food!!!

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Residents of Italy, as opposed to travellors, will understand the importance of the title not being “Top 10 things to eat in Italy”.  This is because, as I have mentioned before, Italy is a country of REGIONS, and towns, and none more so obviously than when it comes to food.

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When I first arrived in Rome, after several months of eating what I called Italian food, I was longing for a change and enquired of my Italian friends if we could go to a different type of restaurant and eat another type of food. “Oh sure”, they answered, “we will arrange it.  Plenty of variety here in Rome.  We could go to a great Abruzzi restaurant we know, or the Sardinian restaurant on the corner is good, and there is an amazing Tuscan place in town and a new Sicilian place opening up.”  Not quite what i had in mind but a good demonstration of how different the food is between regions.  And  not just regions.  If you are wanting variety it is often enough just to drive an hour up the freeway to the next little town, and the food will be different with unique dishes and ways of preparing salads, pastas, desserts etc.

Often dishes that you can get in one part of Italy are unavailable in others.  So it would be a shame to focus on general “Italian” dishes at the expense of the local cuisine and that way you can taste your way around Italy knowing that the variety will be significant.

For example it took me about seven years to work out why I couldn’t find Spaghetti Bolognaise on the menu in Rome.  I attributed this fact to it possibly being an Anglo-Saxon made-up Italian dish, like garlic bread that is not available ANYWHWERE in Italy.  Until I took a holiday to Bologna.  Then I found it on every menu.  Rome of course has its own version, but it is made with pork meat not beef and is called Spaghetti con Ragu.  If you want Spaghetti  Bolognaise when you are in Italy you need to go to Bologna.

Therefore this post will focus on the top 10 dishes to eat in Rome primarily because they are mostly only available in Rome and represent some of its best cuisine.  They are not the type of dishes that the average Italian home cook would make as they are quite tricky or have special ingredients.  They are the type of dishes that Italians go out to eat.  All the restaurants featured in my post ‘Top 10 Restaurants’ will have these dishes available.  I have written the dishes in the order of how they will appear in the menu and in the order you are supposed to eat them.

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There were so many yummy savoury dishes that I ran out of numbers before I got to dessert so I have cheated and included a number 11.  Also you may have heard me comment previously that Roman desserts are not prolific or spectacular.  Especially when you compare them to the ice-cream desserts of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia or the creamy custards of Tuscany and Umbria.  Also Romans have available at all times spectacular ice-cream which is not only a dessert but a daily medicinal requirement, and recommended to all travellors at all times, and they have adopted the Tiramisu (probably the most like a ‘national’ dessert that Italy has) with avengence, so no need to suffer a dessert desert when you are in Rome, but not alot of desserts that you can only have in Rome.  The one I have included is the only one unique to Rome unless you count Chestnut honey which the Ancient Romans used prolifically as a dessert and which I also recommend you try.

Just one other thing then.  Roman cooking is characterised by two things – its simplicity and its focus on offal (which i have reccomended only in one dish but should be tried in its various forms if you have the stomach for stomach…..).  This is because of its history of being a Papal city, one of the most signficant.  Traditionally most of the best cuts of meat and produce went to the Vatican, and the local food producers of Rome had a prolific amount of Priests and nobles connected with the Vatican who they could provide food for.  It meant that the local citizens were left with the lesser cuts of meat.  The general poverty of the food producers and other city dwellers meant that simple, local, ingredients, along with offal was what made up their cuisine.  Like many culinary traditions, the food of the poor became adopted by the rich and now its quality and custom is entrenched in the average modern Roman diet.

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Here are the first five, next five, next week.

1.  Fiori di ZuccaStuffed zucchini flowers.  These are spectacular and not to be missed and to be eaten at every opportunity possible.  Many of my ‘regret’ moments are about the fact that I did not eat enough Fiori di Zucca when I had the chance.  They are also not to attempted at home.  I tried it once and have had much empathy with my gynachologist ever since.  It is almost impossible to open up the delicate petals enough without splitting them to get in the ingredients you need to get in there to qualify them as stuffed, and it takes ages.  These beauties usually come two or three to a dish and are small and light.  They consist of the end of the zucchini, the flower, stuffed with golden, melting mozarella and a sharp tasting anchovy (just enough to flavour it), dipped in a light batter and quickly deep fried.  Have I mentioned they are divine?

2.  Olive ascolane.  Stuffed olives.  Much more robust than the Fiori di Zucca they are green olives stuffed with pork mince, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.  They are like little mouthfuls of intensely flavoursome and chewy peices of heaven if you like olives and pork.  They usually come 8 -10 to a plate.

3. Spaghetti Carbonara.  No translation available.  This dish is not to be missed and comes after the antipasti dishes mentioned above.  It is usally served as a spaghetti but can also be served using penne or rigatoni as the pasta.  If you have ever eaten what you think is a Spaghetti Carbonara outside of Italy, you will be quite surprised, and then very angry with the previous person who cooked you Spaghetti Carbonara.  This is a thick, rich and highly filling dish.  It is the Italian version of bacon and eggs and therefore can be eaten as early in the day as you want and is recommended as a great hangover cure.  It is simply eggs cooked together with so much parmesan cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) it is scary, until a cream develops.  It is then thrown together with some small pieces of  pigs cheek or pigs stomach (guanciale or pancetta) lightly fried in their own fat and then mixed with the pasta.  More parmesan and a splash of pepper usally accompany it.  Under no circumstances is cream used.   Talking and fast movement may need to cease for some time after this dish has been eaten.

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4. Amatriciana.  Same.  This is a pasta dish which can be served using Spaghetti, Penne, Rigatoni or Bucatini.  The pasta sauces is made from tomatoes, pigs cheek (guanciale), a pinch of chilli and Pecorino (sheep’s) cheese.  It is salty, flavoursome, and makes you feel like you could run a marathon afterwards.  It is my hands down favourite food in all of Rome.

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5. Spaghetti Caccio Peppe.  Spaghetti with Sheep’s cheese and Pepper.  And lastly for today we come to another Roman favourite.  It is so simple and sounds so foreign that many people shy away from it but it is also not to be missed and one day long into the future you will remember how good this dish tasted.  It is served only with Spaghetti and it comes with a mountain of fresh sheep’s cheese (Pecorino) finely grated on top of it and dusted with a thick layer of black, cracked pepper.  Your job is to mix it all in until the cheese melts and then just eat it.  Talking will not be possible during the eating of this dish and it is fun to watch the face of the person eating this dish as the unlikely yumminess hits them again and again.

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If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about Roman and Italian food and food stories, my book ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons‘, will have you longing for pasta and searching for an Italian/Roman food fix!  Available at your local bookstore (in Australia) or from

Stay tuned for the final top 5 things to eat in Rome!

 

 

 

Antonio and Francesca – A love story.

Antonio and Francesca were my parents-in-law.  They are the charactors Renato and Checchina in my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasonshttp://www.amazon.com/roman daze.  They lived in Taranto, a small city right at the bottom of Italy on a beautiful bay.

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This blog is to honor them both, but today the story is mostly about Antonio, and Francesca’s stories will come next month.

This story begins around 1937.

Pa was 17 when he first set eyes on the 13 year old Francesca.  She was already working as a seamstress, along with her sister and mother, taking in sewing in any form to earn money in a family that had a choice between food or rent every month, unless there was enough sewing.

He saw her entering and leaving an apartment block every week on a Tuesday afternoon with her sister Nina who was 15.  He had a friend living in that apartment block and so took to visiting him every Tuesday hoping to get a chance meeting with her which he eventually did.  Not being with a parent emboldened Antonio to approach Francesca and a clandestine and innocent friendship struck up, aided and abetted by Nina who was already “spoken for” by a handsome young Carabinieri (a special squad of police that form part of the national miliatary) called Rocco.  Nina wanted her sister to have the joy of a boyfriend too.

It seems that every romance in the south of Italy begins with the parents of the female automatically hating her suitors until the very point of the wedding ceremony and Antonio was no exception.  He was aided in his meetings by Rocco who, being a Carabinieri was seen as vastly more acceptable than a worker from the local munitions factory (where Francesca’s father also worked).

But Antonio was approaching 18, the age at which all Italian males were obliged to do their military service.  This was a two year stint where Italy’s young men were trained as soldiers and could be called up to serve their country if war broke out any time in the proceeding 15 years.  Antonio didn’t have to wait that long.  It was 1939.  War broke out during his national service and he was swept up in it as a young and fairly untrained soldier.

Often when I used to look at Antonio smiling benignly over a plate of cream cakes (he had an enormous sweet tooth) or giggling over the Italian version of Benny Hill, or blowing raspberries into his wife’s stomach (at 91 years of age) or crying as he hugged his son goodbye after a weekend visit; and when I understood his character to be one of gentleness, trust, and contentment with his small lot in life, I found it hard to imagine him with a gun in his hand shooting at others his age.  And then I realised that probably his character, his ability to be utterly content with the simplest of lives and to have no fear of the things in life that I fear, was a result of what he had lived through rather than a pre-existing condition.

Pa was on the front line when Italy changed sides.  He was lying on the ground on his stomach alongside other Germans and Italians shooting at the enemies advancing through the top of Italy, somewhere around Trieste, the most Northern part of Italy.  There was a strange unrest and tension in the air that day.  None of the Italian officers had shown up to the war that morning.  It gradually became known down through the line of soldiers that Italy had changed its allies and was therefore an enemy of Germany.  The very men who were holding guns, side by side with Antonio.  He and another mate from the same home town, Taranto, dropped their guns and ran.  No formal discharge, no orders, no waiting for authority figures to tell them what to do and no fear of reprisals.  Their guts told them to get the hell out of there and so they did.

Trieste is at one end of Italy and Taranto is at the other.  It is a distance of tens of thousands of kilometres.  They walked home.  It took Antonio a month to get home and leaving the front line did not guarantee that their lives were now safe.  They were in uniform and therefore in danger of being picked up by the German military who ruled Italy.  Therefore they couldn’t use the roads or travel during the day.  Because of those same uniforms they were in danger of also being killed by the Italian partisans, the resistance, those who had opposed the war or deserted early.  This meant they were in danger at night, when the resistance travelled along the roads and paths of Italy.

So they followed the aqueducts.  The ancient system of water tunnels the Romans had built from one end of Italy to the other, at night, and only every second night.  They were tired, hungry, afraid, and needed to rest a lot.  They knocked on deserted farmhouses in the evenings and begged for food.  At that time in Italy thousands of men were making their ways home from this war, and resistors were making their ways out to fight it clandestinely. The housewives of Italy fed them all.  A knock on the door around evening time and all through the night was common.  They all needed food and it was always supplied.  The women didn’t care if they had uniforms on or not, whether they carried arms or not.  Most of them were hoping the next knock would be from their men and were relying on other women far away to be keeping them alive as they themselves were doing for the men of other women.

A month after Antonio fled the front line he arrived in Taranto.  No one there knew if he was alive or dead.  He walked up to his apartment building and greeted his incredulous mother who was on the balcony.  He washed and ate and then went to see Francesca.  She was coming along the street, arms laden down with two bags of food shopping and walking next to her mother, when she saw him coming towards her.  She dropped the bags of food (a serious crime in those days) and ran towards him.  There was never any question after that of whether he was good enough for Francesca.  He was a returned soldier who had fought for his country, been caught up in the terrible political machinations of the powerful and wealthy and had survived to come home.  That was good enough.

Antonio went on to father two boys, Hercole (yes that is a name) and Alfredo, and be the surrogate father of two more; the sons of his best friend, Alfredo, who lost his life early to cancer.  He and Francesca lived with other couples in rented houses and eeked out a living, often hungry, for nearly two decades after the war had finished.  Their financial highpoint was being able to afford a one bedroom apartment of their own, five stories up with no lift, in the centre of Taranto, with a view of the sea.  Hercole slept in a small walk-in cupboard at the end of the corridor.  When he went to military service at the age of 16, they had a second son, Alfredo, my husband.

Pa went back to work at the munitions factory after the war and worked there every day for forty years.  His life was unadventurous from my point of view.  He never travelled.  He spent his holidays with Rocco and Nina at their small plot of land about forty minutes away from where he lived and picked almonds for them each summer.  He never read anything except newspapers.

“What’s the point in buying a book?” he once said to me as I came home laden yet again with a half dozen of them.  “Once you’ve read it what do you do with it?” He then chuckled at me like I was a little soft in the head. I am known as a person who is addicted to buying books and never letting them go.  He spent his leisure time talking with his mates in the piazza below, watching TV, playing cards with his son and daughter-in-law, and talking with Francesca.

His first question to me when he saw me on the weekends we travelled down from Rome, was always “Have you eaten?”.  He enthusiastically embraced the introduction of Anglo-Saxon traditions such as Christmas crackers and the wearing of the hats that came out of them, insisting his whole family did too.  This was a vastly unfamiliar tradition to them but one that made my Christmases a whole lot better amidst all the pasta, ice-cream desserts and lack of alcohol that made up their typical southern Italian Christmas dinner.

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One day shortly before Pa passed away, Hercole came into the apartment to find Pa lying on the floor, the bottom half of his torso wedged under his double bed.  Francesca had gone out to do the shopping.  Pa was lying there calmly waiting for someone to come and find him and help him up.  Are you alright Pa, Hercole asked half concerned, half finding it funny (I told you they were quirky).  “I’ve been better”, was the reply.

So for his bravery, his contentment, his peacefulness and his fathering which produced an amazing husband (biased point of view) I say Vale Antonio, Vale xxxx

Antonio

It’s been two years since both Francesca and Antonio De Luca passed away.  Married for 67 years they weren’t able to exist, one without the other.

Franchy had a stroke when she was 89.  She was rushed to hospital from the 5th floor apartment they had both lived in for over fourty years.  She was away six weeks, floating between life and death and then rehabilitating and learning to walk again.  Pa couldn’t comprehend it.  He was almost blind, had difficulty walking and was in the advanced stages of dementia.  He could also not be consoled.

The person who had been the only constant in his grey and continually dimming world was no longer there.  He was living more and more in a world of fantasy where if he passed a mirror he often spent half an hour talking into it, thinking he was having a conversation with someone else.  He could also spend hours having a conversation with the television.  All he knew was that the person who prepared his coffee first thing in the morning, the person who helped wash and dress him, the person who helped him go to the toilet, who fed him, bought his food and went walking with him was gone.  The woman who, when he woke regularly in the middle of the night and started to get dressed, told him that it wasn’t time yet, the woman who laughed and joked with him at his eccentricities and still took him, and his needs seriously, the woman who even at 89 years old could still make him smile, grab her in a big hug and kiss her repeatedly on the mouth.  All he knew was that she was no longer with him, the concept of time, that she was somewhere else and could eventually come back, eluded him.

In her place were well meaning sons, grand children, neighbours, doctors and professional carers.  He struggled on for several weeks at home then in professional care.  Like Romeo at Juliet’s tomb, believing her dead, he just wanted to go with her.  One day he just stopped eating and died three days later. Francesca survived her stroke and came home to an empty house.  Francesca couldn’t walk very well and as their apartment was on the fifth floor with no lift, she was confined to it.  Her sister Nina and her best friend Maria visited every day, sometimes twice a day, along with neighbours, children and grandchildren. She lasted almost two months without Antonio and then one day another stroke killed her.

They were the kind of parents and parents-in-law that you really miss.  Funny, quirky, courageous, honest, tenacious, tender, unconditionally and endlessly loving to the full extent of their capacity and beyond.  They were two of the most selfless and endearing people I have ever met.  I wish the world had known them more.

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Every one is an expert on Rome…..

A beautiful and insightful review from the Editor of ‘Insights.  Melbourne Business and Economics.’ by Associate Professor Geoff Burrows.  A regular and passionate visitor to Rome.

REVIEW of ROMAN DAZE – LA DOLCE VITA FOR ALL SEASONS

The saying that ‘every immigrant is an anthropologist’ is colourfully realised in Bronte Jackson’s Roman Daze.   Arriving in Rome as a backpacker courtesy of a free airline ticket won in a raffle and after a failed marriage, she immediately fell in love with the city during what turned out to be a 17-year stay, acquiring along the way fluency in the language, an Italian husband and employment with the UN’s Rome-based World Food Program.

 

Loosely structured around how the four seasons impact on Rome and its inhabitants, the text offers a series of fascinating excursions into Rome’s geography, history and the living, working, courting, shopping, eating, beach-going, and other socialising and recreational habits of its citizens.  Some clichés are shown to be true – timetables are largely works of fiction, Italian women do apply make-up before exercising, bank tellers do demand the personal phone number of young female customers as a condition of providing service.  At least one legend is also verified: the existence of a keyhole, remote from the Vatican, which offers a breathtaking view of the Holy See.

 

There is no air-brushing of Rome’s frustrations: long waits and customer-unfriendly banking procedures and the lack of a service ethos in Italy’s bloated public sector.   However, there is always the compensation of superb food and coffee, the search for which is a sub-theme running through the text.  Frustratingly for tourists, the best food and coffee is served in small obscure establishments, mostly invisible to foreigners.  The locals never patronise establishments directed at tourists.  The subtleties of local variations are constantly described.  Unexpectedly, Italians emphasise the taste of pasta itself rather the toppings.  The author also describes her own culinary triumph – a quiche at a neighbour’s crowded sixtieth birthday party.

 

Much travel writing is by experienced journalists based on quick impressions on sponsored trips.  Roman Daze is the account of a 17-year love affair with a city.  Written in a deceptively easy prose style, it is recommended to both first-time and regular visitors to the Eternal City.

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