Starting in 1940 Pasquale Rotondi, a superintendent of the Artistic and Historic Heritage in Pesaro e Urbino Province, Le Marche, saved about 10,000 masterpieces from bombardments and prevented their transportation to Germany at the hands of the Offices for Artistic Protection set up by the Nazi SS in Italy. The amazing Rocca di Sassocorvaro and the Palazzo dei Principi in Carpegna, in Northern Le Marche, were the hideaways that he found for important works by Lotto, Titian, Piero della Francesca, Rubens, Raphael, Mantegna, Tiepolo, Tintoretto and Canaletto among others, Rossini original scores and thousands of documents and objects.
His story is beautifully told in this video (sorry in Italian only).
Vitalbe (clematis vitalba, traveller's joy, old man's beard) are one of the many plants that we forage here in Northern Le Marche. When you think of a clematis you probably visualize a cascade of big elegant flowers, not an omelette...
Traveller's joy is not as gifted as its cousins and only features small whiteish strudy flowers during late spring or summer depending on the climate. Moreover it's probably one of the worse nightmares for anyone who wants to keep their shrubs and small trees nice and tidy... it's a climber... no, it's a mix between a climber and a giant science-fiction-like octopus that wraps up in anything nearby and smothers it.
But... it's a very useful plant (its strong and very long stems can be woven into baskets or used to used as ropes) and during the Autumn its beautiful thanks to the hairy (hence the name "old man's beard) fruits.
And, here comes the foraging bit, its soft sprouts are edible and yummy! You should only collect the tender tops, with just the first two leaves on them, since the rest of the plant is slightly toxic (if you are concerned about this think that parsley is also toxic but it depends on how much you eat!).
So, now you have the vitalbe, now you need to boil them until soft (add a bit of salt to the water) and then use them for a delicious omelette or frittata.
I beat eggs with salt and pepper and a bit of milk and grated parmesan cheese, throw the vitalbe in and then prepare my frittata, but you can also skip all the addings and just do eggs, salt and vitalbe. A drop of organic extra vergin olive oil in the pan and you'll be able to taste their pure slightly spinachy taste. ENJOY!
This is often part of the appetizer at Locanda della Valle Nuova when in season, so come and taste it! If you are interested we can pick vitalbe together so that you see exactly how they look like and how much of it you should pick :)
Some months ago I received an unusual e-mail from a journalist telling me that she had to write something for a US magazine called Modern Farmer about farmers' favourite tools to help in the mud (yes... you read correctly :) ).
We had a long and fun e-mail and phone calls exchange and this is the result. It's probably the most unlikely project I've been involved in, but the result was knowing a very interesting person! Thank you Jenny !
I always wanted to write something about this beautiful collection, but I didn't have good photos so I waited and waited... last weekend I had the possibility to visit Palazzo Ducale in Urbania again and to enjoy the new location of the collection in the beautiful Torrione coperto.
The collection, donated to the town of Urbania by Ms Maurri-Poggi, has about 1000 pieces from all over Italy (and a few from other countries in Europe), but mostly from Central Italy (Le Marche, Umbria and Tuscany) dating from mid xix century up to mid xx century.
Unluckily the torrione can't contain the whole collection, but it's beautiful and the pieces on show give a good idea of the amazing Italian production of different shapes (each of them specifically created for a given use, that determins the characteristics of the object), different enamels and techniques.
The pieces from Le Marche come from different areas of the region, some of them from places, like Fratterosa and Montottone, that still maintain their great pottery tradition and their peculiar aspect and colours.
My favourite pieces, from Montottone, in Fermo Province.
Crescia di Pasqua, Pizza di Paqua, Crescia Brusca, Torta al Formaggio, Crescia al formaggio, Crescia Ricresciuta, Caciata... different names for similar Panettone-shaped Easter breads prepared in Le Marche, Umbria, Abruzzo and Lazio (basically throughout Central Italy except Tuscany, as far as I know).
Here in Northern Le Marche (where it's called Crescia di Pasqua) the tradition is that every family makes an outrageous number of them and then, before Easter, the swapping begins. People used to give one to neighbours, family and friends and, of course were given one by each of them, so every family ended up having to "deal" with, basically, the same outrageous number of cresce that they made in first place... that is, too many!
The typical combo to enjoy your Easter bread is fresh pecorino cheese, raw fresh fava beans (broadbeans) and, if you're lucky, the first lonzino of the season (salted and dry cured pork loin), still nicely soft and not too salty.
I still remember when I first tried Crescia di Pasqua... I was 8, my parents just bought the farm, the Locanda was still a long way away, I was sitting on the grass outside what is now the Casina Nuova apartment and the woman who used to live there had given me a chunk of Crescia (a bottom chunk, that was and still is my favourite because it's moist and dense), a very thick slice of lonzino and a few fava pods (I had never had raw broadbeans before... it was a huge surprise, with their sweet and "green" taste).
A couple of weeks ago with a group of friends we modified the tradition a bit, without forgoing the pleasure of tasting many different Crescia recipes: we organized a Crescia Contest where everyone would bring their creation (more or less traditional) along with plenty of cheeses, salumi and wine (too early for fava beans) and we would taste again and again and then decide whose Crescia was the best.
As you can see they all have different shapes and you can also use a bread machine to make it, but the old pans for crescia are beautiful! (Thank you Ilaria for letting me use the pics of your great-granny's beautiful crescia terracotta pan)
The shape is not very important.. you can salso make small individual "buns", the taste will not change. I like my crescia moist and tasty, this is my recipe (another big thank you to Bruna who gave me her family recipe!)
Flour as much as it takes (650/700 gr) to form a soft dough along with:
Grated pecorino cheese 90gr
Grated Parmesan cheese 130gr
Rendered lard (strutto) 160gr
Dry active yeast 40gr
Salt 2 tsp
Pepper to taste (I used about 1 tsp)
Mix all the ingredients (you want a soft but not sticky dough) and work for a few minutes.
Put in a high pan or traditional crescia mold and let proof for a couple of hours (or until it doubles its size).
Hot oven (180º) for 50 minutes (or more depending on your oven, use a wooden stick or sharp knife to check if it's done inside).
If you're vegetarian you can substitute the lard with oil (I'd use good evo), but if you're not do try the traditional version!
If you have one that is big enough or if you cut the quantities in two you can make it in a bread machine, just check that the dough has risen enough before baking, it's a dense and heavy dough so it may need a bit longer.
Torta di rose is not made with roses (I plan to try that, though) it's the way we call baked goods similar in shape to cinnamon rolls. This one has orange juice in the dough and orange peel in the filling and it's delish!
I also made small heart-shaped rolls because I couldn't fit all the rolls in my small pan... actually there were too many already as you can see by the fun shapes they took when rising :)
I will post the recipe soon
It's not the right season to prepare this - as every other witchy plant they are collected on Saint John's day (June 24th) - but today I was rearranging my medicines drawer and I found last year's Saint John's wort oil so I thought that it was better posting the recipe today so that you will be more than prepared in June! :)
Saint John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is used as an antidepressive and agains anxiety but it also have strong antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties so the oil makes wonders on burns.
Making Saint John's wort oil is very easy, you just have to collect the flowers around the end of June, when the flowers are barely open. Put them in a glass jar and top up with oil.
You could use any oil, but I like to make mine with organic extra virgin olive oil for a couple of reasons: olive oil gives elasticity to your skin and it has cicatrizant properties (both things are very good for healing burns) and I prefer to use organic and extra virgin because other oils contain residues of the chemicals used in farming and pressing, so I prefer not to have those on my healing skin!
After a few days the oil starts changing colour and in a few weeks it will turn deep golden. That's the time to filter the oil and put it in a dark jar or bottle, ready for use!
If you happen to burn or scald a hand when cooking or if you have a bad sunburn this is what you should do: cool the part down applying cold water or starchy cold water. Once it's cool and it doesn't hurt too much start applying the oil every few hours.
Frittata con le vitalbe (Clematis Vitalba. Old man's beard or Traveller's joy), local organic pecorino cheese, home made sweet and sour pickled cucumbers, quince jam, home made cured black olives.
A typical early summer antipasto at Valle Nuova.
WARNING FOR FORAGERS: If you have never collected Traveller's joy, please make sure that you only collect the very young tops... or do not collect it, just in case... some parts of this plant are slightly poisonous.
I'm working on maps for guests to see the best of Northern Le Marche and bits of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria that are within reasonable driving time from us ("reasonable" being 1.30 hours that is what I consider a distance I can drive when I'm on holidays).
At the moment this project is still in its early stage, but few days ago I completed a Foodie Map for guests and whoever is in Le Marche and loves food.
It contains my personal suggestions to eat out and buy great food in the area (+1 gelateria), I'm sure that I'm missing some great places, but these are my favourites in the area so far. Please send me your opinions and suggestions to try new places.
I hope you enjoy!
Today we spent some time collecting herbs for decoration and eating: oats and another wild herb for drying, wild flowers, new olive branches for liqueur and vitalbe (young shoots of Old man's beard or Traveller's joy) for delicious omelettes.
We're delighted to announce that this season we're going to have a new apartment!
The Casina Nuova apartment is my old apartment and we are currently renewing it for guests. It stands in the same building as Casina dei Tordi, 500 metres away from the main house and the swimming pool, that can be easily reached (walking or driving) along an internal road in the farm (you will meet our cows along the way).
It's located on the ground floor and it features an amazing and cool porch where you'll be able to dine al-fresco and relax after a long day discovering the wonders of Northern Le Marche (btw, have a look at LE MARCHE PHOTO BLOG to see some of the places that you can visit during your stay!).
You enter into a sitting and dining room with kitchen. The kitchen is fully equipped with fridge, gas stove, oven, microwave, coffee machine and everything you need to prepare and enjoy your latest food market discovery or our vegetables directly from the kitchen garden next door.
There are two bedrooms, one with queensize bed and complete en-suite bathroom with shower, the other one with two comfortable twin beds (that can be made into a kingsize - and you will not notice that it's two beds put together!) and next door a full bathroom with shower and washing machine.
The apartment has wi-fi access for those who can't live without it and it's very cool, even during the hottest seasons due to its orientation.
I will soon post some photos of the real thing!
We have 166Kw of photovoltaic panels installed on the roofs of our cowshed, barn and stables (or we will shortly have them again after the snow crashed some of them last February).
In 1 year our solar panels produced 184000 Kwh of electricity, enough for 18 U.S. or 52 Italian households (average data).
This means that every year we have 100000 kg of CO2 less in the athmosphere thanks to our plant.
It's difficult to calculate how much CO2 our farm and Locanda produce (data available online are usually referred to industrial farming, not smallholding, let alone organic farming), but I think I can say that we're carbon neutral.
I posted my Nocino (green walnut liqueur) recipe some time ago but, having started this new series about foraging, having just collected my nuts for 2012 nocino and being about to try the one I made in 2011 (I leave it rest for 1 year), I think that today is the perfect time to remind you that you should be picking your walnuts!
You can find the recipe here.
This is a very busy time of the year if you collect wild herbs, flowers and fruits... so do not miss my next posts about St John's Wort and Lime Tree!
Ever since I discovered how Taraxacum officinale is called in English, I thought that it's a funny name... Dandelion is originally Dent de lion (Lion tooth), the French name for it. It's called the same in Italian (Dente di leone) and I guess that it refers to the toothed shape of the leaves.
But the really funny name is the other French common name (as well its name in Northern Italian dialects): Pissenlit (pee in bed) that refers to its diuretic properties.
Its freshly grown leaves are collected in spring and early autumn, boiled and eaten along with other wild plants. They are known in Northern Le Marche as Erbe di campo (lit. Field herbs) and they are usually sauteed with olive oil (lard in the traditional version) with garlic.
The roots are collected, dried, ground and used as a (not very interesting) substitute for coffee.
But my favorite use is Dandelion flowers liqueur!
100 dandelion flowers (collected when fully in bloom)
A syrup made with 250 g of water and 300 gr of sugar
2 whole lemons cut in pieces
Juice of 2 lemons
750 g of water
750 g of 95º alcohol
(you can use Vodka and reduce the amount of water accordingly)
Make a syrup with 250 g of water and 300 g of sugar and let cool.
In a glass jar that you can close tightly put the flowers, lemons, lemon juice and syrup.
Close, store in a warm place and let rest for 1 week.
Add the 750g water and the alcohol and leave for about 3 months.
Filter and enjoy!
In my opinion one of the pleasures of living in the countryside is getting in touch with nature in many different ways.
I love having the possibility of meeting the little creatures that inhabit our world without us realizing. Today, driving along a white road by the farm, I saw a blackbird in the middle of the road carrying a huge worm and struggling to fly away when it saw my car. Hurrying to fly away it lost the worm and panicked, trying to decide between its prey and dear life. I slowed down allowing it to run back (blackbirds tend to run instead of flying), get the worm and run away. A few months ago I had the funniest meeting with a very cheeky dormouse who was as curios of understanding what kind of animal I was as I was of seeing how near was it going to come.
The other great pleasure is redescovering the countryside traditions, things that people did for centuries and that we, contemporary town people, lost completely. I still remember my first sausage and the day that I made cheese using fig leaves as rennet (it worked perfectly but the cheese was dreadful). This also includes foraging: flowers, leaves, berries, sprouts, buds... and of course experimenting old and new recipes to prepare dishes, liqueurs, syrups, jams, jellies, preserves, medicines and much more.
This year spring is early, so elder is blooming right now here in Northern Le Marche. The first instalment of this new series about foraging (and preparing yummy goodies), after this long introduction, will be two links to gorgeous recipes using elder flowers. Enjoy!
From April 6th to July 8th 2012 the Ducal Palace in Urbino will host The Ideal City - Renaissance Utopia in Urbino between Piero della Francesca and Raphael.
The painted panel of The Ideal City in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche
is one of the most fascinating enigmas of the Italian Renaissance. We
do know neither why is was painted nor by whom, yet it is a compendium
of art, science and philosophic speculation, one of the highest
achievements of the civilization that flourished at Urbino in the
second half of the fifteenth century, at the court of Duke Federico da
Montefeltro, one of the most learned and enlightened lords of his time.
In the exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, curated by
Lorenza Mochi Onori and Vittoria Garibaldi, the Urbino panel is finally
open to public view along with another "ideal city", similar in style,
from the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore (unfortunately, a
third in Berlin cannot be moved due to its poor state of conservation).
A unique opportunity to broaden our knowledge of such singular and
mysterious works, to explore the meaning behind the idea of a city as
it is reflected in the architecture of the paintings, and to understand
the meaning of the utopias depicted in them.
Alongside this panel, many other works are on display, about 50 in
all, including paintings, sculptures, wood inlays, drawings, medals,
illuminated manuscripts and architectural treatises, which give us a
global picture of one of the high points in the history of this small
capital city, set in the mountains and hills of Montefeltro, in the
midst of the lands of Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Romagna.
There are works by Jacopo de Barbari, Piero della Francesca, Luca Signorelli, Fra’ Carnevale, Domenico Veneziano, Sassetta, Mantegna, Perugino, Bramante and finally Raphael,
who, having learnt his art in the cultural climate of Urbino, was to
become one of the great architects of 1500s. Two works by Raphael
feature in the exhibition: a drawing and the predella of the Oddi Altarpiece exceptionally loaned for the occasion by the Vatican Museums.
The venue, and at the same time a constituent element of the exhibition, is the splendid Palazzo Ducale in Urbino,
built with the contribution of architects who invented the very
language of the Renaissance: Leon Battista Alberti, Luciano Laurana and
Francesco di Giorgio Martini, all three of whom have been attributed
the painting of the Urbino panel.
(Text from the official page of the exhibition)