Monday, June 29

Photo of the Week - Castel Brancaleoni, Piobbico

a view of Castello Brancaleoni in Piobbico, the town we live in!

Friday, June 26

"The onions have exploded and there's poppies in my potatoes!"

view of the garden from the front yard

...I never thought I'd hear Jason say that. But, man was he right! The garden is just bursting especially after this last batch of June rain. To be honest I've never seen half this stuff growing before from seed to a flowering plant with veggies and then onto my plate -it's pretty incredible!(lettuces ~ lattughe)

(tomatoes ~ pomodori)

I used to break out in a cold sweat when Jason would ask me to run to the store for an onion. Which kind of onion? He didn't say - white, purple, yellow, those little ones...should I get one of everything... not any more! Now we just pull'em from the front yard.(onions ~ cipolle)

So until now I had no clue when a radish is ready to be picked or how big potato plants actually are (they're huge!) & eggplants... forget it! I am amazed by the eggplants & love their beautiful purple flowers. (I'll post a progression of shots soon).

(eggplant ~ melanzane)

Then there is the zucchini - not only is the actually zucchini just wonderful in so many dishes but the bright orange flowers - fried, stuffed, in a sauce, baked & tossed with pasta!(zucchini)

And check out the proud farmer with his home bottled wine in one hand & his first zucchini in the other!

Eco Friendly Beaches of Le Marche ~ Blue Flag Awarded

Check it out: From Marche Voyager a wonderful newsletter on Le Marche:
Le Marche has been awarded more Blue Flags - the prestigious awards given annually to well-kept beaches and marinas across Europe by the Foundation for Environmental Education - than any other region in Italy this year.

The important "eco-label" is given to sites that meet strict criteria including water quality, environmental management, safety and other services.

A total of 26 beaches and nine marinas have been nominated in the following towns (from north to south): Gabicce Mare, Pesaro, Fano, Marotta di Mondolfo, Senigallia, Sirolo, Numana, Porto Recanati, Potenza Picena, Civitanova Marche, Porto Sant'Elpidio, Lido di Fermo, Porto San Giorgio, Cupra Marittima, Grottammare, and San Benedetto del Tronto.

Check out more detailed beach info: click here!

All these beaches are a day trip away from our farmhouse Agriturismo & Cooking School - we are only 45 minutes from Fano!

Wednesday, June 24

Poached Makes For A Perfect Picnic

Lesso di vitello con salsa verde
Poached beef with green sauce

A quick note about lesso or boiled/poached meat: you can make a lesso of anything - fish, chicken, beef even potatoes. A great secondo for a hot day - as you can make it far ahead of time & then there is no need to turn on your stove in the heat of the day! I must say that boiled meat sounds gross - boiled meat with green sauce sounds like you may find it on a shoddy cafeteria menu - oh but worry not my friends - this is a wonderful, light picnic perfect dish!

serves 4

little over a lb. of a tough roast: rump roast, eye round or chuck roast will work well
enough broth to cover (The secret to this dish is in the broth/brodo - must be of high quality!)
1 carrot
1 rib of celery
half an onion
1 bay leaf
1 leek
couple of sprigs of parsley

In a large pot, bring your broth to a boil. Drop in your aromatics (herbs & veggies) and return the pot to a boil.

Gently add your meat to the broth & veggies. Allow pot to return to a boil.

Lower to simmer for 2 - 4 hours until meat is extremely tender.

Remove meat & place in the fridge to cool.

Broth can be strained & saved to be served as a soup or another dish. Freezes very well.

Salsa Verde

2 handfuls of parsley (stems removed), chopped
2 cloves of garlic, skins removed, smashed
1 tablespoons of capers, chopped
4 fillets of anchovies, chopped
pepper flakes as desired
2 - 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

In a small sauce pan add a couple tablespoons of the oil, on a low heat fry the garlic.

When outside of garlic turns golden brown add capers & anchovies & pepper flakes. Pulverize into a paste with the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove pan from heat. Add vinegar & parsley incorporating into the mixture.

Once mixture has had a chance to cool down for a minute, slowly stir in the rest of the olive oil and adjust the seasoning.

Allow salsa mix to sit out & rest for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to incorporate.

Meanwhile -
Remove the meat from the fridge. Slice thinly against the grain. Lay meat on a plate in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt & top with salsa verde.

Allow for the finished dish to sit for 15-minutes or so once topped. It can be done far ahead in advance & refrigerated - but remember to pull it out of the fridge early so the oil comes back up to room temperature & is not congealed.

Serve lesso atop a bed of salad. It can also be topped with quartered cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesean, finely sliced celery, etc. etc.

Take this basic recipe & apply it to anything - boiled potatoes, poached fish or poached chicken breast, even a poached egg are beautiful examples of lesso con salsa verde. There is also a mayonaise based sauce - but I prefer the one above.

Monday, June 22

Pranzo Al Fresco ~ The Perfect Summer Lunch Menu

Pranzo alfresco - you just can't beat a long summer lunch on a warm day gathered around the table full of old friends. It's been incredible to walk down into the orto & collect the veggies & fruits needed for lunch or dinner. Here is the perfect menu for a lovely summer lunch- (served just this last weekend at our farmhouse/agriturismo).

Antipasti ~
Prosciutto & melon
Green beans with pomodorini & 30 year old aged Traditional Aceto Balsamico of Modena (Recipe)
Fichi con pecorino e miele ~ Figs with aged pecorino (sheeps milk cheese) drizzled with local honeyFine finocchio ~ Shaved fennel salad
Insalata lenticchi ~ Lentil salad (Recipe)

Primi ~
Spaghetti alla chitarra con fiori di zucchini ~ Pasta with squash blossoms
Taglietelle con porcini freschi ~ Pasta with fresh porcini mushrooms & sausage

Secondo ~
Lesso con salsa verde ~ Poached beef with green sauce (Recipe)
Insalta mista ~ Mixed lettuce & arugula salad

Dolce ~
Ciliege con mascarpone e biscotti ~ Cherries mascerated in brandy topped with mascarpone & mint with a star cookie (Recipe)
mangia bene~

Friday, June 19

Bella Piu Della Luna ~ More Beautiful Than The Moon

In our tiny town of Piobbico, Italy they color their streets in flower petals for one day in honor of Corpus Cristi. Straight out of an old Italian film there is a religious procession through town led by the priest, clergy, band, mayor & townspeople - however it is split: men 1st and then the women follow. I jumped in line once I saw Rossalba our Italian teacher in town & asked why? Without hesitation "That is how it's always been." Case closed!
Enjoy the pictures of Piobbico~

Bella Piu Della Luna ~ More Beautiful Than The Moon!

The Art of the Porcini Hunt

a perfect porcino found by Jason

"I'll be here at 5:30 am ... have the coffee ready!" commanded our "capo" Dott. Gaggi.
We knew what that meant - the conditions were right for a rare summer mushroom hunt - but in particular for the ever-loved - porcini! We had the perfect guide - Dott. Gaggi, certified Mushroom Hunter & expert on everything! Mushroom lovers & die-hards know that 10 -15 days after a good rain followed by warm dry weather is ideal hunting conditions & those funghi are ready to pop up!

So we pulled on the wellies & tredged into the woods. Mushroom hunting is an art with many secrets along the way. First it is the location - one that is not over-run, that very few people hunt at. Then you must whisper or whistle to alert the other - as most mushrooms grow in pairs - "where there is one, there is many" I heard this over & over today. So you don't want to draw attention to where you are because you never know who else may be out there with you.

I couldn't believe how fast the doctor started finding mushrooms & porcini to say the least - one after the other - I heard "Ashley vieni qui (come here)" & sure enough another fat one in the ground! So how does he do it - well years & years with a well trained eye. But the secret is to look for where the leaves bunch up - they are getting pushed up for the mushroom growing. Sometimes you're lucky enough to find them out in the open too!

Now when you come across another hunter, it is not costumary to acknowledge him - just pass, but we didn't know - we came across another hunter & jolly Jason said - Buon giorno signor, what a beautiful morning this is! We both bum rushed the guy to peak in his deep basket that was filled with plump mushrooms. He grumbled about what a bad morning it is for hunting & that there is just nothing to be found in these woods. NOT TRUE! Our basket was overflowing at this point & so was his. So never let on that you are doing well. Gaggi recommends a deep covered basket so no one can see in.

This would be a good time to NOTE: Jason & I have no idea what we are doing, we have never gone mushroom hunting before, we have no clue which mushrooms are delicious to eat & which will kill you instantly! We are just totally lucky & thankful to have the good doctor Gaggi showing us the ropes & sharing these experience with us!

The count: 22 beautiful porcini & 35 La Russola (in dialect: Bietta) sorry no clue what it's called in English. So I must say we did freakn' awesome for our first time out - in June! We'll be back for more...

Wednesday, June 17

Mission: 64 Litres of Wine - Bottled By Us!

On a warm summer day, armed with a 54 litre glass demijohn & if that wasn't enough, 2 5-litre jugs - we were on a mission - a new house wine bottled by us! And this was a mission I was ready to accept! We jumped in the car with our neighbor Lucas an expat from Amsterdam and we took the scenic route to Morra d'Alba a lovely Marche town famous for it's exceptional vino!

The best part is the "filling station" - basically it looks just like a chrome gas pump & it just looks hysterical!

The wine we chose is a mix of 3 grapes: Lacrima, San Giovese & Montepulciano - for a fantastic smooth red wine! For good measure bought 10 litres of Verdecchio. A local white wine with a hint of effervescence - nice & light, a perfect aperitivo!

After we got back to the house we bottled & corked our wine (85 bottles), stocked our shelves & started drinking! I swear it tastes better now! So come on over & have a glass or buy a bottle of our newest home-bottled vino!

Monday, June 15

La Transumanza ~ Cow Herdn' Italian Style

This was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had, nell mio cuore per sempre! (in my heart forever) not only because I am the 1st American & female to participate in Piobbico but for the absolute beauty of the day....La Transumanza.

So what is La Transumanza? Here's the story:
The cows after surviving the cold winters in the stall graze in the rich fields of the hills surrounding the farm and then move to the higher meadows of Monte Nerone. This traditional farming practice of moving the cows is particular to the farmers of this area and is known as “La Transumanza” which is one of the most nostalgic memories of the farm life, especially for our dear neighbors the Mochi family. From the moment we heard of this practice we were ready to help out!

Franco leading the herd in his 60th transumanza

Only when all the conditions are right (the cows are happy, the weather is perfect & the grass is at a certain height), normally on the second Saturday of June the entire herd is moved to the grazing fields of Monte Nerone at a height of about 1200 meters about about a 15+km walk.

This is Monte Nerone - we walked to the top of this beast!

No matter what the age (from 84 to 23) our group left promptly at 4:30 am on a beautiful summer morning. Off to a quick start, due to the horses pushing them in the rear - the cows literally ran through the whole town of Piobbico before the sun or town was awake.After heading up into the mountain, surrounded by the smell of wild mint, we stopped along the way for an impromptu picnic - bread, mortadella & wine. I was looked at like a crazy lady when I offered water to the group - "Ashley why drink water, when we have wine! It is better for you." After a short rest & finishing off about 7 bottles of wine, we began moving the cows as the men broke out into song! (God! I love Italy!!)

From Ruggero the big slow bull to the "old lady" it was fun naming the cows as we herded. And then of course, there was Norman (for all you City Slicker fans) I couldn't stop caling out to him: "Norman, Helllooooooo!!" No one on this journey could understand why I'd call out to a calf like that - they asked if he spoke English & I said yes he does!

Most of the time the cows just followed the leader, with a gentle nudge here & there, but ever once in a while they would wonder off course & we'd had to herd them back in & flush them out of the woods. One particular time a few cows in my zone headed up into the woods - Michele shouted out - "Ashley VAI! Go get your cows!!Go Go! Push'em!" I loved it, as the only girl, I was glad not to be cut any slack! I wrangled back in no-time!

Welcomed by family & friends with a huge picnic lunch, we arrived at the top of Monte Nerone around 10:30 am. A few fell right to sleep for a quick nap, others recounting our favorite moments & just enjoying the day we spent together - forever bonded by this great journey.

The cows, tired & hungry like us, were all happy to arrive at the top to relax in the green fields & begin their grazing. The herd now remains on Monte Nerone until mid-October when they will return to the hills surrounding the Mochi farm.

Piero Mochi counting his cattle at the top of the Mt. Nerone

The transumanza is a complete group effort, farmhand, family members and friends help participate in this annual tradition. Among the many Enrico, Michele, Tiziano, Giacobbe, Egido who for a decade have never missed the transumanza. Completely honored, my name will be on that list as one of the faithful few!! And I must say... I think I'm a pretty damn good cow herdn' & wranglin' city slicker!

Sunday, June 7

Pic of the Week

A warm late spring eveing in the medieval town of Gradara.
With the perfect backdrop of olive trees and Monte Nerone

Wednesday, June 3

Local Honey Tastes Best ~ Miele Buonissimo!

Driving down our road the other day we noticed our neighbor Walter (pronounced Valter), working with the bees so we had to stop!

He showed us the boxes, the bees & the "goods" - that golden sweet honey!

In a region filled with artisan honey filling every market, we choose to buy only the best & that just so happens to be from our neighbors! They only make enough for family, friends & the random passerby who would like a jar.

There are 2 sometimes 3 typs of honey offered -
acacia, mille fiori (thousand flowers - mixed) & castagna (chestnut). And they come in 3 colors - clear (this years acacia is just perfect), golden amber (last years mille fiori) and then third is almost like butter - grainy & creamy and wonderful with tea!

Next time you are staying with us, you can either buy a jar or two from us or we'll point you in the right direction down the road to meet our neighbors & their delicious nectar of the bees! My favorite dish Jason makes with the honey - fresh figs with aged pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) drizzled with honey. Squisito!

In Italy or not - support your local honey farmers!
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