What I Did During My Fall Vacation

On the Road

I’m back from what was, for the most part, another wonderful visit with my Zia. We cooked, we talked, we talked about cooking, and, as one might expect, I’ve a few recipes to share in the weeks to come.

First, having located the surprisingly illusive 1 lb. octopus, I revisited the recipe posted a couple of weeks ago and prepared “Polipo in Umido“, Stewed Octopus. Although I won’t create a new post for the recipe, I’ve added the recipe to the end of this post and have added a link to the original post. I will not include the recipe for the bread I baked that afternoon simply because I evidently failed to bookmark the webpage’s address.

RIccetteOn another night, I reached into the box of Bartolini pastas that our ever-so-thoughtful friend, Lidia, had sent us, and prepared a Pasta alla Verdure, Pasta with Vegetables. It’s a delicious vegetarian dish — if you’re willing to overlook the guanciale that was rendered in the first step.

Since I’ll be unable to visit Zia for her birthday at the end of this month, I prepared a birthday dinner for the two of us. Our primo piatto was L’Uova da Ravioli, Egg-Filled Ravioli.  Our secondo was Osso Bucco, Braised Veal Shanks, while our dessert was a Pear Tarte Tartain. I do not plan on sharing the tart recipe for it wasn’t my finest hour. Knowing that a number of you had recently posted recipes, I attempted to find one of them but the 10 minute/post load time wore me out, so I sought help from the Almighty, the one and only Martha Stewart. Her recipe produced a tasty dessert but my “flip” was a matter of great disappointment and resulted in a presentation that was anything but “a good thing.” So, we took off our eyeglasses and enjoyed it immensely.

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One thing you may not know about my Zia is that she enjoys a bit of jam every now and Strawberry-Cranberry Jamagain. Well, recently, our good friend BAM, of Bam’s Kitchen fame, shared her recipe for Bammer’s Jammers. Made with cranberries, strawberries, and ginger, this quick jam is delicious. The mix of tart and sweet is a winning combination, if ever there was one, and Zia loved it. Be sure to check out her recipe and, while you’re there, have a look around BAM’s blog. Guaranteed, it will be time well-spent. And a big “Thank You!” to BAM for the recipe.

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Unfortunately, all was not good food and talk during my visit. While I was with Zia, we received word that my Dad’s remaining Brother, Uncle Leo, “Zio Leo”, passed away in a suburb of Detroit. Zia and I travelled to the wake later that week. You may recall that the Apple Cake recipe that I shared 2 weeks ago belonged to his Wife, my Aunt Mary, “Zia Mariolla”.  He was a kind, wonderful man, as was Dad’s other Brother, Uncle Dominic, “Zio Mingo”, who passed away just 5 weeks earlier in his home in San Marino. Both men will be missed terribly. May they rest in peace.

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I hope to resume posting recipes next week. I live in a two-flat and the back porches and stairwell needed repair and a fresh coat of paint. I soon learned that, though repairs could be performed, our building codes have changed recently. It would be best to replace it all now, rather than in a couple years. As I type, workers are removing the old structure, just beyond the wall behind me. Max, thankfully, is in doggy daycare for the day — but he’ll be here tomorrow. Admittedly, this is nowhere near the scope of the construction projects some of you have endured over the past few months. Even so, there are foundations to be dug, cement to be poured, and a structure to be built, with a couple of inspections along the way. Whether I post the Green Tomato Relish recipe next week will depend on how the re-build progresses and Max’s reaction to seeing workers in his yard.

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Stewed Octopus Recipe

(Polipo in Umido) 

Ingredients

  • 1 one pound (500 g) octopus
  • reserved blanching water
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 large can, 28 oz (800 g), whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1 small can, 14 oz (400 g) whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram (2 tsp fresh)
  • 3 to 4 oz dry white wine
  • fresh, crusty bread for serving

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Polipo in Umido

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Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan over med-high heat, bring to boil enough water to cover the trimmed octopus. Add the octopus and allow to simmer for 2 minutes after the pot returns to the boil. (Small octopi should boil for 1 minute. Larger should be allowed to boil closer to 2 minutes.) Remove the octopus and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and reserve. Reserve the blanching liquid, too. (See Notes) (Refer to Strangozzi post for further details on prepping the octopus.)
  2. Place the blanching liquid back into the sauce pan and, over med-high heat, reduce it by half.
  3. Over med-high heat, add olive oil in a medium sauce pan.
  4. Add red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper before sautéing until the onion is translucent and garlic fragrant — about 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, wine, and marjoram, stir to combine. Bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  6. After the sauce has thickened and darkened a bit — about 30 minutes — add the chopped octopus and reduced blanching liquid before continuing the simmer.
  7. Taste a piece of octopus after another 15 minutes to test for doneness and to check the seasoning. If necessary, continue to simmer another 5 minutes before tasting again.
  8. Serve immediately, accompanied with crusty bread. Alternately, some prefer to ladle the octopus over a slice of bread in the bottom of each bowl.
  9. Like all mildly flavored seafood dishes, grated cheese is not recommended for it will overpower the dish.

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Notes

As mentioned above, more complete instructions for cleaning and chopping the octopus may be found HERE, the only difference being the size of the chopped pieces of octopus. For an in umido preparation, we prefer the pieces to be from 1.5 to 2 inches (3.5 to 5 cm). That means the octopus you buy should be about 1 lb. in weight. Anything less will require a smaller chop and, in our estimation, won’t be as suitable for an in umido preparation.

The idea for reserving and reducing the blanching liquid came from a suggestion from our blogging buddy, Stefan. It worked like a charm, adding additional flavor to the sauce. Thanks, Stefan! You can find out what other good things Stefan has to offer by visiting his fantastic blog, Stefan’s Gourmet Blog.

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What I did on my Spring Vacation. (The short answer: I ate.)

Formal introductions are forthcoming

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Home again! 

After an all-too-brief visit, Lucy, Max, and I returned home to find things not quite the way we left them. (More about that later.) My time spent with Zia was wonderful, though the weather, much like that area’s like the internet service, wasn’t at all cooperative. One had me wishing I’d brought my Winter coat and the other had me seriously considering driving the 30 miles to get access to free WiFi at the nearest McDonald’s. As a result, there were no walks on the beach with Max and I only showed Zia a couple of your blog posts. I couldn’t get them to load on my iPad and this was the first time I brought my iPhone to Michigan. My experience with WP on the device is really quite limited. Even so, I wouldn’t necessarily consider an iPhone’s displays “Zia friendly” and I did much of my reading alone. And before anyone thinks I’m picking on my Cara Zia, I wouldn’t call the displays “John friendly” either. You should have seen me trying to “Pin” or “Like” one of your posts. (I don’t know how you do it, Eva!)

You may be wondering, with it cold and damp when it wasn’t flat-out raining, what does one do in rural Michigan? Well, I can’t speak for others but we cooked … and we cooked … and we cooked again. True, I did take my daily walk looking for morel mushrooms and ramps but returned home empty-handed each time. (Not to worry, I came prepared.) So, with several great meals prepared and, as the title suggests, devoured, I thought I’d share a couple of the recipes today, with a promise to post the rest in the weeks to come.

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I can count on two things whenever I arrive at Zia’s home. Once I’ve unpacked the car, there will be a Manhattan waiting for me. (Zia is the original “Hostess with the Mostest”.) With my thirst quaffed, Zia will then get to work on the traditional Bartolini risotto.

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Made with fresh mushrooms and chicken gizzards, this dish has long been a family favorite. In fact, there were relatives that traveled hundreds of miles and, upon each and every arrival, asked for a risotto dinner. Of course, not everyone likes chicken gizzards, so, just tell them that the offending bits are nothing but a few dried mushrooms. More about that, and the risotto recipe, will be shared in a future post.

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Although most lunches were simple sandwiches made with the Italian lunch meats and bread I brought with me, there were 2 notable exceptions. On Sunday, like always, we had brunch after Mass with a few of Zia’s neighbors and fellow choir members. (Yes, Zia is a member of her church’s choir.) The 2nd time was when I prepared Asparagus in the style of Milan, Asparagi alla Milanese.

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There will be no future recipe for this dish because it is so very simple to prepare. Season fresh asparagus spears with salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. Place the spears on a heated barbecue, hot grill pan, or baking sheet that’s placed in a hot (425˚ F, 218˚ C) oven. Meanwhile, fry an egg or two per serving and season with salt & pepper. If, like us, you like your yolks runny, the eggs should be prepared sunny-side up or over easy. And that’s it. When both the asparagus and eggs are cooked to your liking, arrange a serving of asparagus spears on a dinner plate, place the eggs on top, and, if you like, garnish with a bit of grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It couldn’t be easier but it sure is a great tasting light lunch or fantastic primo piatto.

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Now, we just didn’t spend all of our time eating lunch. We did work for our suppers, too. In fact, Zia’s pasta board got quite a bit of use over the course of my visit. One day, we made ravioli and linguine.

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Using a filling of ramps, fresh spinach, and goat’s cheese, Zia and I spent the afternoon making pasta pillows. That night, we feasted on these very same ravioli, prepared with morel mushrooms in a white wine sauce.

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Those recipes will be coming your way.

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Another day brought out the pasta board again and we spent the afternoon making gnocchi.

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That night’s dinner was probably the best of my entire visit. Our primo piatto was gnocchi dressed in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce.

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That night’s secondo was grilled rack of Spring lamb, while contorni of grilled asparagus and a tossed salad rounded out the meal.

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Later that night, I surprised Zia with cannoli that I’d brought from my Italian market. Recipes for the gnocchi, gorgonzola cream sauce, and lamb will soon be posted, too.

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Lastly, I could hardly go home for a visit without bringing something from the fish monger. This visit I brought whiting, merluzzo, with me.

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Rather than risk ruining them on a grill with which I’ve had little experience, these little fishies were prepared with the Bartolini breading mixture and baked, with excess breading mixture placed on the baking sheet, roasted, and used to garnish a platter of hand-cut linguine aglio e olio with baby artichokes, spinach, and ramps. The merluzzo recipe was already shared HERE

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To make the pasta dish, place 1/3 cup olive oil in a hot pan over med-high heat. Add red pepper flakes, to taste, along with chopped ramps. Sauté till ramps are soft, add 2 to 4 bulbs of diced Spring or new garlic, and continue cooking for another minute. Add the trimmed and quartered fresh artichokes, a half cup of white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce to a soft simmer. Allow the artichokes to braise until soft and the sauce has reduced, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta until two minutes shy of package directions or, if using fresh, until the pasta is a bit firmer to the bite than your prefer. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and add to the frying pan along with  a handful or two of fresh spinach. Toss to coat the pasta and continue to sauté the pan’s contents until the pasta is cooked to your liking, adding pasta water as needed to maintain the sauce. To serve, garnish with breading mixture that remains on the baking sheet that was used to roast the merluzzo. Of course, if merluzzo isn’t on that night’s menu, your pasta may be garnished with grated cheese or bread crumbs toasted in a bit of olive oil.

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So, there you have it. We cooked, we chatted, we worked out the kinks in a recipe or two, and we spent a very nice time together. And, best of all, there are recipes to share for anyone that’s interested. Would that I could end this post here and now but, alas, there’s a bit more to tell.

Late on the night of my arrival in Michigan, I received a telephone call telling me of some storm damage at my home. Thankfully no one was hurt and there wasn’t any structural damage. Since a picture is worth a thousand words and our friend Celi has challenged us all to post a view from our back porches, here’s mine.

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"This is as close to indoor plumbing as I'm ever going to get!"

With the exception of a potted palm that died under the most suspicious of circumstances in the living room, this is about as close to indoor plumbing as Max will ever get.

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That green thing is not some prop from a 50′s sci-fi thriller. It’s a trumpet vine that the wind knocked down, blocking the path to the garage and alley, not to mention landing atop a few roses. (Hopefully the dog run’s fence took the brunt of the force from the falling vine.) Here’s the view from the porch landing above.

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Believe it or not, buried within that tangled mess are the remnants of a wooden trellis.

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As you can see, mine is a typical city yard here in Chicago, made even smaller because of the 2 car garage and dog run … um … and the now-fallen vine. As of this writing, I’m waiting to hear from a few landscapers for bids to remove the vine and haul it away. On the plus side, once it’s removed, there’ll be space for a clematis vine and another rose.

The Kitchens are open again, with a new recipe, Baked Haddock, coming this Wednesday.

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What do a Zia, a Pope, and an Elf have to do with Today’s Pasta? (Part 2)

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Ché bella Zia!

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As was mentioned yesterday, today is the 90th anniversary of my Zia’s birth! Last Saturday, some 2 dozen Bartolini gathered at the home of one of her Grandsons for a surprise party in her honor. (Very heavy emphasis on the “surprise.”) The food was delish; the champagne chilled and plentiful (just how I like it); and the highlight of the evening was her Son’s slide show of family photographs. It was a wonderful night for this very special Lady and Matriarch of the Bartolini Clan. She deserves no less!

Now, back to our story …

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2 Pieces of the Puzzle

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Yesterday, I recounted my favorite story involving my Zia as a means of celebrating her birthday. What’s this? You missed it? Well, click HERE to view yesterday’s post. Once there, you’ll see how Zia and Pope John Paul II are connected. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for your return.

For the rest of you, I don’t expect you to sit idly by while the others catch up. Heavens no! Here’s a musical interlude to occupy your attention while we wait. (Thanks, Cris!)

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(Remember this aria, Zia?)

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Everybody here? Then let’s continue …

When we left our story, Zia and I had just experienced a close encounter of the Papal Kind and were in a taxi being ferried back to our hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, we skipped lunch, preferring to retire to our rooms. We had anticipated a memorable day and this was so much more than that, a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. A rest was definitely in order — if for no other reason than to allow Zia to re-hydrate. Later that afternoon, as was our custom, room service delivered our caffè to Zia’s room. Normally, this is when we would have planned our dinner and evening. That night, however, we decided to “stay close to home” and made an early reservation at a restaurant just down the street from where we were staying.

Not that much later, we were seated at the restaurant, our appetites still nowhere to be found. Now, one thing you should know about my Cara Zia is that she loves pasta every bit as much as I do. When we dined, we always enjoyed a primo piatto of pasta of some sort before ordering our secondi and contorni. So, absent an appetite, we did what came naturally: we ordered pasta.  Not so coincidentally, that pasta just happens to be today’s recipe, Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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Mom first prepared this dish for me when I was in my teens. She told me a legend that its name was derived from the coal miners that worked in the mines that surround Rome. As they ate their lunch, which often consisted of a plate of pasta, coal dust fell from their clothes and on to their plates. The dish’s ample use of black pepper is an homage, of sorts, to those miners and their lunches.

The version Mom served me usually contained bacon, although prosciutto was sometimes substituted, albeit rarely. Pancetta just wasn’t something that Mom and Zia used in their cooking. Remember, many of the Bartolini dishes began with a battuto of onion, garlic, parsley, and salt pork. There was no need for pancetta, too. As my experience as a cook grew, however, I began to use pancetta more frequently when I prepared this pasta.

Back in Rome, Zia and I noticed that this pasta was made with guanciale, something that was an unknown to me. Our waiter explained that guanciale comes from the pig’s jowls and, like pancetta, it’s cured but not smoked. Although now used throughout Italy, our waiter went on to explain that it is still most commonly used in Rome and its surrounding district of Lazio. Well, we needed no further urging. Zia and I ordered the Spaghetti alla Carbonara and so began my love affair with this cured meat. Unfortunately, it would take me 10 years to find a source for guanciale in my hometown but that’s a story for another day. Even so, in my mind, Spaghetti alla Carbonara will be forever linked to Zia and Pope John-Paul II.

OK. So far I’ve explained the connection between Zia and the Pope and how, on the day of their meeting, we dined on today’s pasta, Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Get ready, kids. Here comes Santa Claus!

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No, that reindog isn’t Max.

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In the years following that momentous day in St Peter’s Square, I’ve prepared Spaghetti alla Carbonara countless times. It is one of the few dishes I prepare using spaghetti because it’s just not my favorite form of pasta. You see, lacking the means to create this thin, round-shaped pasta, I had to rely on manufactured spaghetti. As you know, I prefer homemade pasta over pretty much all manufactured types. Still, when it came to this tasty dish, I gladly bought spaghetti and never thought twice about it. This all changed 3 years ago, almost to the day.

One afternoon, Martha Stewart was promoting a new attachment for a well-known stand mixer. This piece of equipment worked much like an extruder, forcing dough through interchangeable plates, creating macaroni, fusilli, rigatoni, bucatini, and, you guessed it, spaghetti. Later that day, I spoke with a good Friend (aka my Traveling Companion) and mentioned this pasta-making wonder of modern technology. A year later he would become a member in high standing of my blog’s tasting crew and, at this time, he had already been the beneficiary of many of my dishes and, well, experiments. He understood full-well the ramifications of this piece of equipment. Our conversation ended and that was the end of that, as far as I was concerned — or so I thought. About a week later, much to my surprise, UPS delivered the pasta maker. In its packaging was a card from Santa, wishing me a Merry Christmas. I called to thank my Friend but he denied having anything to do with it — a denial he maintains to this very day. Now, I’ve no reason to doubt my Friend or his word. If he maintains that Santa did, indeed, send me a gift, who am I to disagree? I would just like to point out, however, that he is the Elf holding the reindog in the picture above. Just sayin’…

There you have it. This is how my Zia, a Pope, and an Elf all helped to bring you today’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara. All that’s left to do, aside from presenting the recipe, is to say,

“Buon Compleanno, Cara Zia!”

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz. guanciale, ¼ inch dice (pancetta, prosciutto, bacon, or ham may be substituted)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese – separated
  • ½ to 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • reserved pasta water
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese for garnish/serving

Directions

  1. Warm a large pasta serving bowl.
  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add the spaghetti and stir.
  3. Check the spaghetti package’s cooking instructions. You’ll want it to be 2 minutes shy of al dente when the rest of the ingredients are ready.
  4. Add half of the cheese to the 3 eggs and beat well to be rid of any lumps.
  5. In a large, deep frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and brown, rendering all the fat. Do not over cook.
  6. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute.
  7. While the garlic cooks, reserve a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and add the pasta to the frying pan.
  8. Continue cooking the pasta in the oil for 2 minutes, heating it thoroughly.
  9. Pour the frying pan’s contents into the warmed serving bowl. Add the egg and cheese mixture in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Once fully coated, add more cheese, the pepper, and as much pasta water as necessary to create a creamy sauce.
  10. Serve immediately with plenty of grated cheese and cracked black pepper available at the table.

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Notes

For so few ingredients, this is a relative tricky dish to prepare. If not done properly, the pasta will not be hot enough to cook the eggs, raising the possibility of salmonella. To eliminate that risk, I only use pasteurized eggs when making this dish. On the other end of the spectrum, it is very easy to “scramble” the eggs rather than create a sauce. You can limit this risk by mixing the pasta and egg mixture off the heat, in a warmed bowl, and/or by adding a little of the hot pasta water to the egg mixture before it’s added to the pasta. This will, in effect, temper the eggs a bit. No matter how you do it, remember to keep the pasta hot and to work fast.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

It was just about a year ago when I shared the Bartolini recipe for making sausage. Mild compared to most spicy sausages, ours depend upon garlic, white wine, and salt & pepper for flavoring. Consider them a platform on which to build your own sausage. Paprika, red pepper flakes and fennel seeds will change them up a bit, as will marjoram, mint, and oregano. Though these days we tend to form patties more often than sausages, the post is nonetheless chock full of sausage making information. Feel free to ask any questions that may arise. You can view the post by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you … 

Merluzz’ al Forno

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What do a Zia, a Pope, and an Elf have to do with Today’s Pasta?

I thought that the combination of last week’s photo with this post’s title might capture your attention and, now that they have, I’ll waste none of your time.

First off, the Kitchens are now open again and I hope everyone’s Holiday and week went well. Thank you all for leaving Holiday wishes and “Likes” during my absence. You see, tomorrow is my Zia’s 90th birthday and I was in Michigan last Saturday for her surprise birthday party. (Happy Birthday, Bella!) What does this have to do with the riddle in the title? I’ll get there. Relax. In fact, grab yourself something to drink. A little Vin Santo would be appropriate.

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As one would expect, during a celebration so grand as a 90th birthday party, stories are told involving the honoree and any number of the guests. My story, my favorite “Zia Story”, is one I’ve saved for just this occasion. My family and friends have heard it countless times, bless their hearts, and now it’s your turn.

During Mom’s illness, there were many evenings during which Zia and I passed the time chatting while watching television. Very often, my travels in Italy were the topic of discussion. I had tried, a number of times, to get Mom to come with me but her fear of flying was too great. Zia had no such fear and many of our evening chats ended with, “Well, maybe someday …”

After Mom passed, I continued to go to Michigan to help settle her affairs, as one might expect. During one of those trips. Zia and I decided that we could both use a little vacation and a trip to Italy was planned. The tragedy of 9/11 delayed our holiday and we left for the Old Country the following March. We spent a few days in Venice before taking a train to Florence. A few days after that and we were on a train heading for Rome.

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The Grand Canal of Venice

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Oops! Forgive me. I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. Before leaving the States, I spoke with a “regular” at the bar who was employed by American Express. (This is when AmEx still employed thousands of agents to handle all of your travel needs.) He suggested that we attend the Pope’s public Mass, conducted every Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square. I agreed and he made the necessary arrangements. Later I called the number he supplied and was told where in Vatican City to fetch our tickets. Being that Zia would be in a wheelchair — the day would be far too long and arduous for her to remain on her feet — the woman explained that we would be seated “off to the side with the other disabled.”  After Mass, she continued, the Holy Father would turn to give us all “a special blessing.” I was quite pleased and we were all set to go. Now, back to our story …

We arrived in Rome on a Thursday. There’d been a transit strike that day and we were lucky to get out of Florence. Over the next few days, we toured the Eternal City. Having been to Rome a few times, I made sure that we didn’t miss a church, museum, or marble chunk of ancient Rome. We sipped caffè on the Via Veneto, tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain, got stiff necks in the Sistine Chapel, and never met a gelato we didn’t like. We saw — and did — it all. On Tuesday, we travelled to Vatican City, picked up our tickets, and spent the rest of the day sight-seeing. After breakfast Wednesday morning, we hailed a taxi and headed back to Vatican City to watch Pope John-Paul II celebrate Mass.

By the time we got to St. Peter’s, the crowd had already begun to gather. For security purposes, the Square was cordoned off and everyone formed a queue to the right, walking along the colonnade. With me pushing Zia in her wheelchair, we joined them and it really wasn’t long before we got to the head of the line where metal detectors waited. A Swiss Guard motioned for us to leave the line and to use a detector reserved for people in our circumstance. Suddenly we were “special,” though we’d yet to realize just how much.

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The Ponte Vecchio of Florence

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After passing through the metal detector, we rolled alongside of the throng, passing across the front of the Square. The Altar sat atop a stage directly to our right and the Square, now filling with people, was to our left. When we got to the end of the stage, the Faithful turned to the left to finish circling the Square before being allowed to enter the viewing area from the back. Not us, however. Just before we were to turn, one of the Swiss Guards motioned for us to come to him.  We had to cross through the people and once we neared the Guard, he unhooked a velvet rope and indicated that we were to go that way. (See? “Special.”)  Alone, we made our way down a passageway, wondering all the while what was going on. At its end we had no choice but to turn to the right and, this time there was a ramp that ran parallel to the passage we had just traversed. Once we started up that ramp, it became clear that we were headed to the stage where the Altar stood.

Dumbfounded, we arrived at the top of the ramp not knowing which way to turn or what to do. Before us was St Peter’s Square, filling with people, and to our left was the Altar in the center of a stage that had been divided into large sections, some with seats. A gentleman in a gray tux with tails motioned for us to come to him and he positioned us in a section to the right of where the Altar stood.  I was given a chair and sat next to Zia in her wheelchair, The Pope would say Mass directly in front of us. Across, on the other side of the Altar, some newlywed couples sat, still dressed in their wedding finery. To their side were children, some of whom had apparently recently received their First Holy Communion. The view from that side was partly blocked by sound and lighting equipment. For reasons that would soon become clear, our view had no such obstructions. No one, save the Cardinals that attended him, would have a better view of that Mass than did Zia on that day. Needless to say, I was in a state of utter disbelief and Zia, wiping away tears, thanked me profusely. But wait, there’s more.

After what seemed like an eternity, we could hear a roar rising from the crowd. At the other end of the Square, the Pope could be seen riding the Pope Mobile through the Faithful. A few minutes later, he was riding up a ramp, passing between us and the Altar, naught but a few feet separating us. Had we left Vatican City right then, Zia would have been one very happy Bartolini — but there’s still more to this tale.

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The Pope said Mass a mere 20 feet before us and the service took a little longer than one might expect, for he delivered his sermon in three languages, Italian, English, and Polish. And all the while Zia tearfully thanked me. It was near the end of the Mass when things really got interesting.

I was standing for the service’s final prayers when another man dressed in a gray tuxedo with tails indicated that he wanted me. He was standing behind the Altar, out-of-sight of the congregation, and as I stepped forward, all I could think was that this cannot be good. As I’ve said many times since, if I could have found a way to hide, to ‘blend in”, I surely would have. But when you’re one of the few standing on a stage in an area meant for wheelchairs, you’re a tad bit conspicuous. With no place to hide, I stepped forward and he immediately made it clear that he wanted me to push Zia. So, I pushed my bewildered Zia the 20 or so feet towards him and, as I did, others in wheelchairs began to queue up behind us.  When we got to him, he turned her chair so that we were facing the crowd and we then realized what was in store. About 15 feet before us was another similarly attired gentleman who began to wave us on. Our gentleman gave me a shove and suddenly we were leading a procession to meet Pope John-Paul II.

Poor Zia. By the time we reached the “waving man”, the two of us were a mess. Zia was sobbing and I frantically searched the clouded sky, fully expecting my death by lightning bolt. We turned to the left and there, 5 feet before us, stood His Holiness who, at this point in his life, was quite frail. Dressed in his familiar white robes, he stood, hunched over, facing away from us. We approached and, as if Cecil B. DeMille was in control of the lighting, the sun burst through the clouds. Pope John Paul turned to face us and we were both struck by how blue his eyes were, especially when contrasted against his pale complexion and now gleaming white vestments. “Stunning” does not begin to describe the effect. Shock turned to awe as he smiled, grabbed Zia’s hand, and blessed us. Within seconds, we were on our way towards another waving man who directed us to an “exit ramp.” Soon we were  heading back to the Square and we decided that we’d leave immediately. Speaking for myself and myself alone, never was the phrase “getting the hell out of here” more appropriate.

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The Colosseum of Rome

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We reached the bottom of the ramp and through the corridor we rushed. When we re-entered the Square, there, on the 2 Jumbotrons for all to see, was a photo of our meeting the Holy Father, Zia in tears and me looking like a deer in headlights.  No, we do not have that picture. We were asked if we wanted a picture taken when we were first situated on the stage but we misunderstood, thinking he was going to take a picture of us seated there. Remember, we didn’t know that we were going to actually meet the Pope.

With our ginormous faces looming above, I quickly pushed Zia through St. Peter’s Square and out on to the street. Virtually no one else had left yet but then again few, if any, had received the “full Papal Treatment” that we had already experienced.  So, with little competition, we easily hailed a cab and within minutes were on our way back to our hotel, all the while Zia continued to wipe away tears as she thanked me.

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And this is the end of Part I. You’ve now learned how Zia and Pope John-Paul II are connected — he is now her “Papa John” — and tomorrow Santa’s role will be revealed. All 3 of them, as you’ll learn, have a part to play in bringing you that dish of pasta pictured above.

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A Thanksgiving Wish

The Bartolini Kitchens have closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday and weekend. We wish our American Friends a wonderful Holiday and may Everyone enjoy the rest of the week.

The Kitchens will reopen next week with not one but two posts.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Riddle me this …

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The Bartolini Have Left The Building!

Yes, it’s true. The Bartolini kitchens have moved — for today only.

Recently, a blogger buddy, Jed, asked if I wouldn’t mind stopping by his place, sports-glutton.com, while he was away covering the AT&T Pro Am at Pebble Beach. Well, if there’s one thing you should know about this Bartolini, besides his undying love for pasta and intense hatred for spiders, is his fondness for travel. So, when Jed asked me to come for a visit, I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough. And I must say I love being here.

First and foremost, Jed’s is a blog about sports and sporting events. If something is happening within the World of Sports, Jed will take us there, not only reporting the event but explaining its significance in “the big picture.” This would be more than enough to keep most sports bloggers busy but not our Jed. In addition to these reports, Jed shares delicious recipes guaranteed to appeal to the glutton in all of us. Now, Jed understands that there’s more to life besides sports and eating.  So, he offers his critiques and ratings of select beers and wines in his Thirsty Thursday series of posts. And, finally, to help us all start our week off on the right foot, Jed serves up a little Monday Morning Humor each and every week.

Sporting news, tasty recipes, expert advice on beverage selection, and a bit of humor, sports-glutton.com has it all. So, please take this link to see my Pastistio Recipe and then take some time to look around and check out sports-glutton.com. You will not be disappointed.

Thanks, Jed, for giving me this opportunity to fill-in for you, even if only for a day. Oh! I almost forgot. It looks like someone broke into your wine cellar last night and stole a few bottles. They must have been real professionals because Max didn’t move all night long. Gotta run.

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10 Questions

I was recently tagged by Mandy, The Complete Cook Book, and given 10 Questions to answer. This is one time where having insomnia pays off. Rather than spend the night grousing about the poor state of overnight broadcast television, I have this assignment to occupy my attention until I’m ready for bed.

So, with Lucy quietly roosting at my side and Max snoring behind me, let’s get started, shall we?

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1.  Describe yourself in seven words.

A pasta lovin’, spider hatin’, dependable friend.

2.  What keeps you up at night?

Insomnia.

3.  Who would you like to be?

Me. I learned a long time ago that to be happy in this life one has to be happy in one’s own skin.

4.  What are you wearing now?

It’s 4:00 AM. I’m wearing sweat pants and an old shirt. (Quite the picture, eh?)

5.  What scares you?

Spiders … spiders … spiders … and spiders.

6.  What is the best and worst things of blogging?

Sorry to repeat your answer here, Mandy, but you were right on the money. The best thing about blogging is the people one “meets.”  I’ve been showered with kindness, encouragement, and assistance. It really is remarkable and I’m very thankful.

And, like Mandy, I find that blogging is becoming more and more time-consuming.

7.  What was the last website you looked at?

I read a review of the Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary Special.

8.  If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Be a better proof reader. I can re-read my typed comment 5 times and the instant I hit “Post Comment” I’ll notice the error(s). I’ve left typo-ridden comments across all of WordPress and if I’ve not yet left one on your blog, it’s only a matter of time.

9.  Slankets, yes or no?

No.

10. Tell us something about the person who tagged you.

Mandy was one of the very first people to look in on, and follow, my blog. Her encouraging words and positive comments meant a great deal to this new-comer to the blogosphere. Visit her blog and you might be rewarded with a tasty suggestion for lunch, a bike tour of her hometown, a restaurant-caliber entrée for dinner, or a passage reprinted from the Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book. And when I say “rewarded” I mean that in the very best sense of the word.

Who are you going to tag to join the quiz?

I hope I’ve not “double-tagged” anyone.

  1. Tanya, Chica Andaluza
  2. Marie, My Little Corner of Rhode Island
  3. “Smidge”, Just  A Smidgen
  4. Kathryn, kiwsparks
  5. Jed, Sports-glutton.com

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And by the way, just to be clear, spiders scare me.

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