National Pie Day. . . My Pear Pie

Just a few days ago, browsing a newspaper, I learned that today, January 23 is National Pie Day.

I don’t consider the pie as one of the most typical Italian dessert; Fruit crostata (tart) and jam tart are more common. Once, however, I read about this National Pie Day I decided to investigate a little further.

Through the American Pie Council, I learned that the first pies were made by early Romans who, also, published the first pie recipe.The early pies were mostly meat pies.

I shall always remember the first meat pies I was invited to taste on my first visit to London. I was my uncle and aunt’s guest. My aunt is English; She is a great cook, in fact , she shared with me her recipe of the best cauliflower dish I have ever had. Her roast beef is out of this world, still, the meat pie was hard to swallow. Sorry aunt Margharet!

Back to history, it  appears that fruit pies or tarts were probably first made in the 1500s. The credit for the first cherry pies goes to the English who made it for Queen Elizabeth I. Indeed, the English settlers were the first to bring the pie to America where, over the years, it has become the most traditional dessert.

How lucky am I! Being Italian and living in the USA, I celebrate Italian holidays and traditions, but I also embrace American celebrations, although always in Italian style. The National Pie Day has given me the opportunity to pay homage to yet another American tradition, and at the same time, to discover a new Italian recipe.

When I cook, my goal is always to use seasonal ingredients, so, to celebrate National Pie Day, I have baked a Charlotte di pere (Pear Pie), a traditional recipe of the Italian region of Piemonte. The name Charlotte, derives from  French. The region of Piemonte, prior to the unification of Italy, has been in the orbit of the French House of Savoy for more than 800 years; The long French domination certainly had a great influence on the regional gastronomy, which indeed, borrows many traditions and terms from the nearby Country.

The recipe I used is  from  “La Cucina, the regional cooking of Italy”, by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. I am very passionate about Italian regional cuisine and I find this cookbook a great resource.

The uniqueness of this pie is that the fruit is cooked in wine. I started my pie while my son was perplexedly observing what I was doing. He is always very concerned when I use  wine in my recipes; once, however, the aroma of the fruit and the cooking wine started to diffuse throughout the kitchen, the concerns and doubts dissipated. The final result was certainly proof that wine can do wonders!

Being this a recipe from Piemonte, it is not surprising that Barolo is the suggested wine to use. Barolo is actually one of my favorite Italian wine. It is, however, a pricey wine, especially in USA . A great alternative for this recipe is the Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape is used for the production of Barolo), still a hearty, high quality wine, but more affordable. Nebbiolo is what I used. Of course, you can substitute with a hearty wine of your choice and liking.

Happy Pie Day!!!

Ricetta Charlotte di Pere

Pear Pie Recipe

For the short pastry:

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/4 cup sugar

7 oz (14 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

4 extralarge egg yolks

1/4 cup chilled Marsala wine(sweet)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pinch of salt

For the filling:

2 lbs. pears (possibly Seckel), cored but not peeled and cut in half lengthwise. If using larger pear cut into quarters.

1 and 1/4 cup pitted prunes (original recipe is 1 and 3/4 cups. I thought was too much)

1 rhubarb stalk (this is my personal addition to the recipe), washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups of Nebbiolo (original recipe uses Barolo. Other hearty red wine will do)

5 tablespoon sugar

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch ground cloves

1 pinch of salt

Directions:

Prepare the short pastry: cold ingredients are essential to making a pie crust. Sift together the flour, the sugar and the salt. Transfer into the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and process without overworking the dough.

Stir in the eggs, Marsala and lemon zest until the dough comes together.

Transfer to a surface dusted with flour and quickly knead the dough for 1 minute, form a ball and then flatten it.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the filling: In a large pan, combine the pears, prunes, rhubarb, wine, lemon zest, sugar, spices and salt. Cook on medium heat until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup and the pears are tender (you don’t want the pear to fall apart).

Preheat the oven at 350 degree. Butter a deep pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line the pie dish. Trim the dough to 1 inch over hang. The dough might break while you transfer to the pie dish. It is, however, easy to patch with extra dough (from the picture you can see that my dough broke in several pieces).

Fill the pie crust with the cooked fruit and liquid.

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the fruit. Seal the edges with your fingers. With the index finger on one hand, press the dough against the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand; continue around the perimeter of the crust and dish. ( I am still perfecting this skill!)

Lastly cut slits in the center of the crust to vent steam.

Position your pie dish in the lower third of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. You may have to cover the edges with foil to avoid overbrowning the edges ( I cover mine during last 15 minute, a little earlier however, would have been better).

Cool the pie and serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream!

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Recipe: Calzoni e Panzerotti. . . Yum-Yum!!!

This past Monday, after 4 weeks of winter break, my youngest son, Mattia, went back to school. I already miss him!

To ensure that he would not forget his mom, I went on a three-day cooking marathon: Baked rigatoni with tomatoes/béchamel sauce on Friday, baked Calzoni and fried Panzerotti on Saturday and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese on Sunday!

Oh. . . he will remember me!

Even if you are not trying to impress your son, you can still treat yourself to this bontà (delicacy).

I will share with you the recipes of the calzoni and panzerotti.

The Calzone al forno (baked calzone) is a specialty of the Neapolitan cuisine, yet widespread through Central, and Southern Italy.

The dough is the same as the pizza and the filling is traditionally composed of mozzarella or provola, grated cheese, ricotta and salame.

In Naples, you can taste delightful calzoni in every Pizzeria, where they are baked in traditional forni a legna (wood fire ovens).

The Panzerotto, typical of the Italian region of Puglia, is simply a variation of the calzone. The same pizza dough is used; however, the traditional filling is a mix of tomatoes and mozzarella. The Panzerotto can be baked or fried.

Although, a specialty of Puglia, the panzerotti, just like the calzoni, are found everywhere in Italy, and particularly in the Southern regions.

The panzerotto is sometime also called calzone fritto (fried calzone).

Fried panzerotti were one of my favorite treats during my college’s years in Napoli. Friggitorie (local shop selling fried food) selling hot panzerotti, crocchè di papate (potatoes croquettes) and pastacresciuta (fried dough) are still in many corner of Naples; My favorite friggitoria was the Friggitoria Vomero, outside the stop of the Funicolare Centrale (funicular railway).

The recipes below are the typical version of calzoni and panzerotti however, you can create your own filling, based on your own likes. Get creative!

Ricetta Calzoni e Panzerotti

(NOTE: The pictures below show two batches of dough and fillings and double the amount of  calzoni and panzerotti)

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups flour type 00 (you can substitute with all-purpose flour – see next line)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (if you don’t have type 00 flour, increase the quantity of all-purpose flour to a total of 3 -1/2 cups)

1-1/2 cups of lukewarm filtered water (100 degree)

1 teaspoon yeast

¼ teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Dissolve the yeast in a 1/4 cup of water with ¼ teaspoon of sugar. Let the yeast foam (5-10 minutes).

In a separate small bowl dissolve the sea salt into a 1/4 cup of water and set aside.

Sift the two types of flour and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment.

Add the yeast and start mixing at low-speed.

Once the yeast has blended into the flour, increase the speed and slowly start adding the water.

Once you have added approximately 3/4 cups of water, you can add the salted water. If it appears that the dough is still not coming together, add the remaining ¼ cup of water.

Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and the sides of the bowl are completely clean.

Transfer the dough on a slightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until smooth.

Form a ball and transfer to a bowl that you had previously brushed with a little bit of oil. Brush also the dough with oil to prevent it from drying, and cover with plastic film and with a kitchen towel. Keep the bowl in a dry place and let raise for 2 hours (during winter, sometime I keep the dough in the oven with the lights on, the warmth of the lights helps the raising process).

You can now start to assemble your filling.

I personally like to use both types of ripieno (filling) for both the calzoni and the panzerotti. I then bake, and fry some of each.

Ripieno di Ricotta 

Ingredients:

1 cup of good quality ricotta cheese (hand dipped is the best)

1 extra-large egg

4 oz. mozzarella cheese

3 oz. sopressata salami  or  Genova salami cut 1/4 inches thick

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup tomato purée

2-3 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Peanut Oil (Peanut oil has a high smoke point and neutral taste which makes it perfect for frying foods. Extra virgin olive oil also has a high smoke point however, you will definitely taste its flavor).

Directions:

Chop the mozzarella and the salame into pieces (I use a food processor. Using the pulse option I easily obtain small pieces).

In a bowl combine the ricotta with the egg, the Parmigiano, the pecorino, salt and pepper.

Add the mozzarella and the salame and mix well to combine.

Ripieno di Pomodoro e Mozzarella 

Ingredients:

4 oz mozzarella cheese, chopped

2 cups of canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

¼ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil to fry

Directions:

Pour the chopped pomodori (tomatoes) into a strainer sitting over a bowl and let drain the water until ready to use.

When you are ready to stuff the calzone and panzerotti, transfer the tomatoes into a dry bowl, add the mozzarella, the oil, the salt and, the oregano and mix together.

How to assemble and cook the calzoni and panzerotti

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead for 1 minute. Roll out the dough, and with a cookie cutter or a glass, form 5 inches diameter disks; Placed the disks on a floured surface. Cover with plastic film and a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven at 450 degree.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with corn meal.

With your hand and the aid of a rolling-pin, roll out each disk until very thin (less than ¼ inch thick). Put some of the filling in the center of each disk.

Brush the edge of each disk with water and close each one by folding the dough over and pressing down along the edges with your finger first and then with the tines of a fork.

Place half of the calzoni and panzerotti in the baking sheet and brush the top with tomato puree.

Bake for 10-15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes then enjoy!

Buonissimi!!!

The other batch of canzoni and panzerotti will be fried.

In a large pan, heat 2-3 inches of olive oil or peanut oil to 170 degree. If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a piece of bread without crust into the oil, if the bread reach the bottom of the pan and quickly return to surface, the oil is ready.

When the oil is ready, fry the panzerotti and calzoni, few at the time, turning them on both sides until golden.

Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and serve hot.

Sitting on top of the fried calzoni and panzerotti is something that my mom used to make. It’s the pizzetta fritta (fried little piazza), simply a thicker disk of dough with a slight well in the center. First you fry the side with the well then, flip over, and while it is frying, fill the well with a spoonful of tomatoes purée and a sprinkle of Parmigiano cheese. I loved it then, and I love it now!

I hope you will enjoy these recipes. Let me know how creative you will be with your fillings!

The Mediterranean Diet. . . and a recipe too!

Did you know that with the New Year 2.6 million people started a diet? And did you know that 92% of those 2.6 million are already off the wagon?

I am not kidding, I was just reading an article about it.

I know for experience that it is not easy to stick to a diet. I tried them all, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and so on.

What throws me off is the idea of dieting itself; the idea that you have to constantly think about the food you can or cannot eat, the measuring, the fat, the sugars, the carbs. . . wow that is a job  in itself!

I finally told myself, I am Italian, from Southern Italy, my mom used to cook delicious food everyday and still, she looked great and definitely she was never on a diet, so what’s the secret?

The secret is that healthy eating was a way of life, it was the way my mom grew up, it was part of her culture.

The secret was what, in the late 1950, the American professor Ancel Keys  defined as the Mediterranean Diet (Dieta Mediterranea).

Professor Keys was with the Allied troops in Greece and then in Southern Italy where he noticed the absence of obesity and that the rate of  heart attack was  very low.

He also noticed that the diet of these areas was completely different from the American diet.

From these observations, professor Keys, later developed a full study around the Mediterranean Diet.

The history of the Mediterranean cuisine is complex and connected to the people who lived on the coasts of this sea.

The model of The Mediterranean Diet has its roots in the Ancient Greek which deeply influenced the Etruscan and Roman cultures.

These cultures, in fact, cherished all products from agriculture, in particular wheat, olives and vines. The cuisine was distinguished by the use of vegetables, fish, fruit and dessert. These were then integrated by cheese and small quantity of meats.

The meals were consumed three times a day : colazione (breakfast), pranzo (lunch) and cena (supper). This is how they are still consumed in Italy

This diet soon clashed with that of the Barbarians which invaded Italy in the High Middle Age (around 560). The Barbarian populations were mostly nomads, their diet was primarily based on gaming, fishing and wild berries. They also bred pigs and used their meat, but also their fat. The cereals were primarily used for the production of beer rather than bread.

This dietary style spread partially in the original Greek-Roman style.

The regions in the North of Italy quickly adopted the new diet of the barbarians, while the populations of Central-Southern Italy were disinclined to these changes and remained faithful to their cuisine, maintaining their identity and originality.

On November 16, 2010 the Mediterranean Diet has been recognized by the UNESCO as a virtuous model of health and intangible cultural World Heritage.

The term “diet” (dieta) refers to the Greek etymon “diaita” or way of life (stile di vita). The recognition from the UNESCO is precisely the recognition of a set of practices, expressions, knowledge and skills, that have allowed the populations around the  Mediterranean Sea to create, over the course of centuries, a synthesis between the cultural environment, the social organization and, the art of eating.

Image from "The Oldways"

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes:

Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts

Using healthy fats such as olive oil

Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods

Limiting the intake of red meat

Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

The late addition of getting plenty of physical exercise and drinking red wine in moderation, makes of this ancient diet a true model of healthy and modern lifestyle.

We can all try to stick to these simple guidelines and still eat flavorful foods – Italian of course!

One of the secrets is to keep your recipe simple. My mom never used more than 5 ingredients in her recipes!  Also use  local, seasonal ingredients, watch for your portions, and take the time to really enjoy every bite of your meal. Every meal in Italy is a ritual, you sit at the tables with your family and you share the food but also the worries and the happy moments of your day.

Let’s give it a try! To get you started I will share the recipe of the Minestrone.

The Minestrone well represents the style of the Mediterranean diet. It is in fact a complete meal with its combination of fresh vegetables and greens, the use of beans, which provide the necessary protein, and small quantity of carbohydrates. You can opt to use small pasta (like ditalini) or rice. You can also use barley or farro.

Ricetta del Minestrone

Ingredients for 6

4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 carrot diced

1 celery stalk diced

1 large potato peeled and diced

1/2 lb. Swiss chard chopped

1/4 of Savoy cabbage chopped (original recipe uses lettuce)

2 ripe plum tomatoes seeded and chopped

4 oz. string beans (cut into thirds)

6 leaves of basil chopped

2 cups of canned  cannellini beans

salt and black pepper to taste

6 cups of water

Rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional – I always add it when I use rice)

1/2 lb of short pasta or 2 fistful of rice/person

Directions:

In a large pot heat 4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and sautè the onion, and  basil. Let the onion softened and take a little color then add all the vegetables except for the tomatoes and the beans.

Add salt and pepper, stir, cover and let cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the water, stir, cover and let simmer for 2 hours.

The next two steps are optional, they are my personal preference.

After one hour add the rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and continue cooking for 45 additional minutes. The cheese rinds melt and make the minestrone more flavorful.

In the bowl of a food processor add half of the cannellini beans and 3-4 cups of the vegetables from the pot. Run the food processor until you obtain a creamy mixture. Add the mixture back into the pot, taste for salt and pepper and add as needed.

Cover and let simmer for additional 15 minutes.

After a total of 2 hours, add the pasta (or rice) and the remaining beans. Cook until the pasta is ready. (If you opt to use rice, let cook without stirring – not even once! – for 15-20 minutes. Do not overcook!)

Serve warm with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Parmigiano cheese.

Perfetto!

NOTES:

I particularly like to use rice whose starch, along with the creamed vegetables, gives the minestrone a slightly creamy texture.

Barley and/or farro require a longer cooking time. If you opt to use one of these two grains,  you can add them to the vegetable mixture along with the  creamed vegetables, and then cook for 1 additional hour.

Tuscan cookies. . . The Befanini

This past weekend, with the “ponte” della Befana (Epiphany long weekend), the Italian Christmas Holidays were officially over.

But before I move on I want to share one last holiday recipe.

Last Friday, January 6, in an effort to pay homage to the festivity of the Epiphany and to the Befana, I came across a recipe of traditional Tuscan biscotti (cookies) called precisely Befanini.

The Befanini are a Tuscan tradition, in particular in Versilia, which is the North-West area of the Tuscan coast.

The tradition of the Befanini, the cookies of the Befana, is quite old; they are made with very simple ingredients because they were the holiday’s cookies of the time when there were not other means to celebrate.

The preparation was sort of a ritual, once ready they were packed in colored bags which the children exchanged in the street.

It is also said that they were donated to pregnant women because the popular belief attributed to the biscotti the ability to ensure abundant milk.

Being my first time baking these cookies, I have to say that screening the different versions of the recipe has been more difficult  than the actual processes of making them.

I am very picky when I look for a new recipe (to be honest, I am just picky in general!). I always like to start from the most traditional and authentic recipe and then add my little touch to it.

However, it is not always easy to find the original recipe, think of all the bloggers like myself that like to add their own little touches!

According to the Italian magazine “L’Espresso” , the original recipe included only 5 ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and lemon zest) plus the baking powder.

Despite the fact that the Befanini are still made in a traditional way, the recipe has evolved through the years, and it appears that all the more contemporary versions share the use of liquor and colored sprinkles, while some also add anise seeds.

In My recipe I have opted to use the Italian Sambuca liqueur (different versions use Rum or Vinsanto),  I have added orange zest, and used the colored sprinkles because they make the biscotti much more festive.

This past Saturday I hosted a party for the Italian-American of Frederick and everyone seemed to enjoy my Befanini, in fact, I gladly packed several little bags of cookies to go!

Although these biscotti (cookies) are typically made in occurrence of the Epiphany you can enjoy them year around. Try them and let me know.

Ricetta dei Befanini Toscani

Ingredients:

3 cups of flour type 00 ( if you don’t have Flour type 00, use 50/50 all purpose and pastry flour)

1-1/2 cups of sugar

7 ounces of softened butter

1/2 cup of milk

3 eggs plus 1 for the egg wash

Zest of one orange

Zest of half lemon

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1 pinch of salt

2 tablespoon of Sambuca or Rum

multicolored sprinkles

Directions:

In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the flour and the sugar.

Then add the softened butter and process slowly.

Add the eggs and continue processing.

Now add the orange zest, the lemon zest, the baking powder, the salt and the liqueur.

Work the dough for 10 minutes on medium speed adding the milk as necessary to make a smooth dough.

Process the dough until it detaches from the side of the food processor bowl.

Transfer the dough on a floured pastry board and kned it fast to form a ball.

Wrap the dough in wrapping film and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven at 350 degree.

Add enough flour to the working surface and around your rolling pin and start rolling out the dough. Your sheet of dough should not be less than 1/4 inch tick.

Use cookie cutters in different shapes to cut your cookies.

Place them on the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Make an egg wash with one egg and a little bit of milk. Brush the cookies with the egg wash and add sprinkles.

Bake the biscotti for 12-14 minutes at 350. The cookies should be a nice gold color.

Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy the Befanini with tea or milk!

The Befanini

The Epiphany. . . La Befana

January 6 is a National holiday in Italy. It is the Epifania (Epiphany), a Christian holiday celebrated precisely on January 6, 12 days after Christmas.

The word Epifania derives from the Greek word epifanèia, which means “the manifestation or the appearance”.

The Epiphany celebrates the first manifestation of Jesus to the world through the visit of the Re Magi (three wise men) coming from the East, led by a comet to adore the Baby Jesus and to offer their gifts of gold (symbol of royalty), frankincense (symbol of divinity) and myrrh (symbol of the future redemptive suffering).

The celebration of the Epiphany is also accompanied by traditions of very ancient lineage (solar cults) and in particular the visit of la Befana on the eve of January 6. The tradition of La Befana may actually predates Christianity, as it is believed to have derived from a pagan goddess or oracle that Romans sought for guidance and gifts at the start of each new year.

“la Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte il cappello alla romana, viva viva la Befana!!!”

(The Befana comes at night with broken shoes and a roman hat, hurrah hurrah for the Befana!!!)

With this rhyme the Italian children every year celebrate the arrival of the old, good witch.

La Befana is a typical Italian tradition.

According to the modern legend, the Re Magi (The three Wise men), on their way to Bethlehem to bring gifts to Baby Jesus, stopped for directions at an old woman’s house.

Picture from "The Christmas Witch" by J. Oppenheim and A. Mitra

Despite their insistence in following them, the old woman did not go, as she was busy sweeping the floors.

Later, the old woman repented, prepared a basket of sweets and left the house hoping to find the three Wise Men. She stopped at every house and gave candies to the children, in the hope that one of them was Baby Jesus. Poor Befana never found her way to Bethlehem. But, every year at Christmastime, she takes her broom and flies all over the Italian sky, leaving gifts and candies to every children.

La Befana is typically depicted as an old beneficent woman, with the hump nose and pointed chin, dressed in rags and covered with soot, because she enters into the houses through the chimney, which represents the connection between sky and earth. She carries on her shoulder a bag full of gifts, and is said to sweep the kitchen with her broom when she leaves her gifts in the children‘s socks.

The festivity of the Befana is particularly felt in Rome, where many families each year gather in Piazza Navona to meet the Befana and enjoy her confectionary.

The Befana traditionally rewards the well-behaved children with gifts and candies, while she punishes the ones who have misbehaved, with pieces of coal as a reminder of their misdeeds.

But. . . nobody is perfect, so you will find in the “calza” (sock – stocking) a nice chunk of coal and then, digging deeper, among some walnut and mandarins you will always find candies and chocolates.

The eve of the Befana is a night of expectation for all the children who, before going to sleep, write the letterina (short letter). The letterina to the Befana is a must. You write how good you have been or how sorry you are for your misbehaving and then you ask for gifts for yourself and for your loved ones.

One more thing before going to sleep must be done, setting up a tray with the Befana’s meal. I know. . . you are thinking cookies and milk just like Santa Claus! Well, you could not be more wrong. . . cheese, tangerines and a glass of red wine! In true Italian style!

I have many memories of the night of the Befana but, two in particular that I would like to share. When I was a child, my family didn’t have a fireplace to hang the stockings so my mom would set up a drying rack. One year I remember hanging long wool tights on each string of the rack. That was a lot of stuffing to do for poor Befana! I remember waking up the following morning and finding the drying rack set on top of the dining room table, all the tights were filled and a beautiful electric train was assembled at the foot of the drying rack all along the edge of the table. Oh, I was so happy!

My second memory brings a little sadness. I was six years old when my grandmother passed away just two days before the Epiphany. I was sent to stay with some close friends. That year, in a home that was not mine, I had not written my letterina (short letter), or left a meal for the Befana and not even hung my calza (stocking). Despite all, I woke up to find my calza (stocking) filled as usual, and the gift I had wished for. My Befana knew, and even in a time of grief she remembered that I was only a little kid.

My mother has filled my brothers’ stockings and mine until we moved out. Often with the candies, walnuts and tangerines, we would also find a scarf or hat that she had hand knitted.

Today, I still fill my two, now adult, son’s stockings and I will keep doing it until they go on their own. I fill their calze (stockings) with Italian candies and chocolates, tangerines, walnuts and a stuffed animal, a tradition I started on their first Befana.

Picture from "The Christmas Witch" by J. Oppenheim and A. Mitra

With la Befana the Italian Christmas Season is officially over, as the saying goes “L’Epifania tutte le feste si porta via!” – “The Epiphany all holidays takes away”.

It is time to take the Christmas tree down, to store the presepe (Nativity scene) in its box, the wreaths and garlands in the storage room and to turn all the shining lights off.

Anyway, if there was not the Epiphany to take all the holidays away, we would still have the Home Owner Association to remind us that we only have this weekend to make sure that no signs of Christmas would be in sight!

How many of you celebrate the Epiphany?

First snow . . .

I want to celebrate the first snow of 2012 with a poesia (poem) by Annabella Mele.

The Italian poetess Annabella Mele lives in Novara, Italy. Annabella is registered with the board of Writers of the Gruppo Cultura Italia (Italy Culture Group).  In 2000 she published  “Poesie“, a collection of poems. Her poems are also present in several Anthologies. She has been recognized with many literary awards.

Annabella has a very special place in my hearth, she is my sister-in-law and godmother but, she is even more than that.

Through the year I will be posting her beautiful poems. It will be my personal way to thank her to be part of my life.

I am experimenting with audio (I hope it works!),  you can listen to the poem in Italian while following the text and then read the English translation at the bottom of the post.

I hope you will enjoy the poem and the first snow of the year!

Original Italian version

Inverno

L’ho visto arrivare da lontano,

col passo incerto,

la barba rigida dal gelo,

gli occhi lacrimanti,

avvolto in un grigio pastrano,

le cioce ben strette ai polpacci.

Portava con sé un ricco bagaglio

di dolci nenie e soffuse melodie,

di lunghe notti trascorse a raccontare,

di fumi dai comignoli delle case,

di effluvi pungenti di resina bruciata,

di profumi inebrianti di mandorle e

di caldarroste, di passeri zampettanti sul suolo,

di stagni riverberanti e compatti,

di passi frettolosi e voci ovattate,

nei vicoli e nelle strade,

di densi vapori nelle osterie,

di gatti accovacciati accanto ai camini,

di sagome esili,

dietro i vetri appannati,

di anziani e bambini.

Ha soggiornato a lungo, Inverno,

dormendo all’addiaccio,

incurante dei venti e delle bufere,

poi… al calore dei primi raggi,

si è dileguato in silenzio…

come fa al sole un pupazzo di ghiaccio.

English translation

Winter

I saw it coming from far away,

with an uncertain step,

the beard stiff frost,

teary eyes,

wrapped in a gray cape,

the cioce[i] well tied to his calf.

It was bringing a rich baggage

of sweet lullabies and soft melodies,

of long nights spent telling

of smoke coming from the house’s chimneys,

of pungent scents of burned resin,

of heady fragrance of almonds and roasted chestnuts,

of sparrows scampering on the soil,

of reflecting and solid ponds,

of hurried steps and felted voices

in the alleys and the streets,

of dense fumes in the taverns,

of cats squatting by the fireplace,

of slender silhouettes,

of elderly and children,

behind the fogged windows.

It stayed long, Winter,

sleeping in the bivouac,

unmindful of the winds and storms,

then… with the warmth of the first rays,

it has silently faded…

as does an icy snowman in the sun.

Learning the Italian Language

Benvenuti (Welcome) to my first blog of 2012!

It is time to share with you My beautiful language. If you have been following my blog you should have learned many Italian words and expressions.

Just in case you have not been paying attention I have compiled a list of all the Italian words and expressions used in My December blogs.

The words and expressions are grouped into categories.

I hope you will find this useful.

PAROLE ITALIANE

FOOD
Limone Lemon
Biscotti All kind of hard cookies
Torrone Nugget
Nocciole Hazelnut
Frutta secca Dry fruit
Insalata Salad
Insalata di rinforzo A marinated vegetable and
cauliflower salad
Baccalà Salted cod-fish
Pizzelle Neapolitan fried dough
Pasta cresciuta A type of pizza dough
Capitone Female adult eel
Gamberi Shrimps
Cozze Mussels
Vongole Clams
Calamari Squids
Frutti di mare Sea Food
Calamarata Type of pasta
Spumante Italian sparkling wine
Zampone Mixture of ground pork,
pork rinds, and spices
stuffed into a boned pig’s foreleg
Cotechino Big sausage  made with a  pork rinds,
mixture of ground pork,
and spices
Lenticchie Lentils
Struffoli Neapolitan dessert typical of Christmas
Mostaccioli Neapolitan large cookies typical of Christmas
Limoncello Lemon liqueur of the Amalfi coast
Frutta Fruit
Dolce Dessert
ABOUT FOOD
Cucina Kitchen
Ricetta Recipe
Pranzo Lunch
Cena Dinner/supper
Cenone (della Vigilia) Big dinner
(on Christmas and/or New Year’s Eve)
Contorno Appetizer
Primo Piatto First course
Secondo Piatto Second course
Contorno Side dish
Far saltare la pasta Make the pasta jump – lightly fry
Pasta al dente Pasta must still have a little bite
Brindisi Toast
GREETINGS
Buon Natale Merry Christmas
Buon Anno or  Felice Anno Nuovo Happy New Year
Benvenuti! Welcome!
HOLIDAYS
Natale Christmas
Capodanno New Year’s Day
Vigilia di Natale Christmas Eve
San Silvestro St. Sylvester – New Year’s Eve
Veglione di San Silvestro New Year’s Eve Party
Babbo Natale Father Christmas/ Santa Clause
Zampognari Shepherds, from the mountains of
Abruzzi, who during the two weeks prior
to Christmas travel from house to house
often to play Christmas music
on their bagpipes.
Feste Natalizie Christmas Holiday Season
Presepe Nativity scene/crèche
Vigilia Eve
Re Magi Three Wise Men
Bambino Gesù Baby Jesus
Madonna Virgin Mary
Pastori Shepherds (In the Nativity scene it
refers to all the figures in the scene)
Mangiatoia Manger
Albero di Natale Christmas tree
Addobbato Trimmed/decked up
GENERAL
Parole Words
Espressioni Expressions
Mezzanotte Midnight
Botti Fireworks and firecrackers
Amici Friends
Notte Night
Bambino Child
Chiesa Church
Passeggiare To go for a stroll
Pizzaiolo Pizza maker
Mercato Open market
Confusion Confusion
Buonissimo! Very, very good!
Che delizia! How delicious!
Ospiti Guests
Zia Aunt
Pompieri Firemen
Il ponte The bridge (literally), it also means
that if a holiday falls on a Thursday or
a Tuesday, they bridge the holidays
taking off from work and school the
extra day in between.

Wow, these are a lot of words! You will have a lot to practice. Have fun!

If you live in Frederick County (MD), Motgmomery County (MD), Washington Metropolitan Area and the Princeton (NJ) Area and you are interested in Italian language classes visit my website www.sharingmyitaly.com  You will also find information on cooking classes and traveling in Italy.