Glorious Gubbio

It’s truffle season in Italy, and Gubbio, a lovely medieval hill town in Umbria, is known for their truffles. To celebrate our anniversary, Michael and I set out for Gubbio on a beautiful fall afternoon earlier this week. After checking out the views of the countryside from the Duomo, we ate lunch at Picchio Verde. Michael ordered a very tasty homemade pasta dish with goose sauce, but nothing compared to my homemade gnocchi stuffed with black truffles and topped with black truffle shavings. Che golosità! It was fantastic—one of the best meals I’ve had in Italy. If you’re ever in Gubbio, order this dish!

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Autumn in full swing

The annual flower market is back in Pesaro’s main piazza, and it’s filled with gorgeous flowers, plants and fruit trees. Among other delights for sale are banana trees, pomegranate trees, pear trees, lemon trees, clementine trees, olive trees, hot peppers, rosemary, myrtle, orchids and much more. Plus, there are several stands selling fresh, local honey.

A local mushroom association is also displaying hundreds of species in the Palazzo Comunale. Autumn in Italy is pretty spectacular!

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Buon onomastico

September 29 is the feast day for St. Michael the Archangel—my husband’s “name day” or onomastico, in Italian. In Italy, people treat their onomastico as a second birthday celebration which is pretty cool. St. Laura’s feast day is October 19 so I’ll have to pop open some champagne in a few weeks. In Italy, the birthday girl (or guy) is supposed to pay for his/her own meal so drinks are on me.

This morning, I took a walk to the water and some Jehovah’s Witnesses handed me a flyer called “Un vita familiare gioiosa” or a joyful family life. We’ve met quite a few Jehovah’s Witnesses in Pesaro, as well as Mormons and evangelical Christians. Pesaro is notoriously secular, but there are many different types of Christians as well as Muslims. It’s interesting to see the diversity of faiths because when we first arrived, I just assumed that I would only see Catholics in Pesaro. It depends where you go, of course, and there is still a strong Catholic community here, but it’s worth noting.

Finally, this morning I tried a new café in the centro which is difficult to do because I thought I’d been to all of them! This café was located off Piazza Matteotti and was also a panetteria. The espresso was from Filicori Zecchini coffee roasters. The cappuccino wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it was only 1.25 euros versus the usual price of 1.30 (last year, cappuccinos were 1.20 but prices have gone up). Soon, it will be back to bitterly flavored American cappuccinos so I’m taking advantage while we’re still here.

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Buon San Terenzio

Yesterday was the feast day of the patron saint of Pesaro—San Terenzio. Most shops were closed for the holiday and I heard several people greet each other with “Buon San Terenzio.” Alex and I checked out the procession at 5 p.m. and although it started to rain, we were able to see the priests and Archbishop of Pesaro, dressed in red and white robes, walk alongside the body of San Terenzio (mounted in a glass box like Snow White, draped in red and white flowers) through the streets of Pesaro, with carabinieri and hundreds of Pesarese in tow.

The group said prayers at every major intersection, and loudspeakers were set up throughout the city so listeners could follow along. I think it’s a great tradition that Italian cities and towns celebrate their patron saints—an excellent way to remember local history and heritage.

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A grande soy cappuccino, please.

I had a soy cappuccino today, a drink I haven’t ordered in years. I honestly felt like I was in Starbucks, and it almost seemed sacrilegious to order when a regular cappuccino is so delicious. But, I felt I had to try one in Italy. For awhile, I didn’t even know they were on the menu here, but it is a drink that some Italians order. It tasted . . . like what I expected! I thought it might taste different because the espresso is better in Italy, but the strong, rather chalky taste of the soy milk overpowered the delicate flavor of the coffee. I’ll take a regular cappuccino any day, but it wasn’t a completely wasted experiment. I also got to eat a lovely chocolate croissant.

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A perfect recipe for autumn

As autumn approaches, I dream of risotto. The following recipe takes a traditional porcini mushroom risotto—which is very easy to make—and adds onions and sausage to it. When they are used as pizza toppings (one of my favorites!) the combination of onions and sausage (and sometimes mushrooms) are called a “boscaiola,” or, from the woods. Here, it makes an excellent early fall risotto. If you don’t want to add onions and sausage, you can stick to the traditional version.

Truffled Porcini Risotto “alla Boscaiola”

5 oz dried porcini (or mixed wild) mushrooms

1 small onion, cut into thin strips

2-3 small sausage links

½ cup of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (Hint: use grated or chopped cheese rind)

1 cup Arborio rice

Chicken stock

White wine (or champagne or white vermouth)

100 ml (about 3.5 oz) of heavy cream

A few sprigs of thyme

Truffle oil (or chopped truffles)


To prepare the mushrooms:

About 2 hours before you begin cooking the risotto, you must prepare the mushrooms.

Place the packet of mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl, crumbling half. Add about 1.5-2 cups of water. You should soak them until the mushrooms are soft, and you are also left with a dark brown “mushroom stock.”

When you are ready to make the risotto:

Melt a generous amount of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove the sausage casings and crumble the sausage meat into the butter. Brown the sausage. Add the onion and rice; sauté for about 2 minutes. Along with the thyme, add the mushrooms that had been soaking in the water; squeeze excess water out into the bowl. Sauté the mushrooms along with the rice/sausage/onion mixture for about a minute or two.

Reduce the flame to low and slowly add in enough white wine to cover the rice. (If you want it a little sweeter, use champagne or white vermouth). When the wine cooks out, add in enough of the liquid onion water to cover the rice. When this cooks out, add in enough of the chicken stock to cover the rice. Repeat the procedure until the rice is just about ready; then add in the cream and grated cheese. (Never waste your Parmesan rinds; you should chop them up finely and add them to soups or risottos. They take longer to melt them down, so you want to add them earlier—along with the mushroom stock or wine).

When it’s ready, take the risotto off of the heat, mix in truffle oil or chopped truffles. Serve immediately.

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Lattes in Lisbon

We had a fantastic day in Fátima yesterday. There were a lot of pilgrims, but it wasn’t too crowded in the early afternoon, and Alex really enjoyed himself.

This morning, I had a galão (espresso with foamed milk) at our local café, and finally took a photo of the interesting sugar packets we’ve been seeing all week. Each packet lists a different Saint’s Day or celebration of some sort. I especially like April 14—International Coffee Day!

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Olá from Portugal

I love the sound of Portuguese. We’ve been in Lisbon since Monday and the city is beautiful. On Tuesday, we explored the Belém district which has two fantastic World Heritage Sites—the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery. Parts of the city remind me of San Francisco. The red 25 de Abril Bridge spanning the Tagus river (which looks like the Golden Gate Bridge and was made by the company that built the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge); the sea salt-rimed air; the steep hills leading toward the water; the pastel stone buildings lining the streets, their blue and pink colors visible through the fog.

The days are warm, the nights cool. We’ve eaten some delicious fish—dourada, sardinhas assadas, espadarte, robalo—sampled the vinho verde white and red wine, and had one of my favorite dishes: a garlic soup from the Alentejo region flavored with Portuguese bread, parsley and a fried egg.

We’re renting an apartment for the week, and despite the steep hill and two flights of narrow stairs (no treat to lug up a heavy stroller), it’s in a great location. I have to say, though, the streets are worse than Italy. Our neighborhood really doesn’t have sidewalks and the pavement is very rocky, making it difficult to navigate the stroller. I should have brought my Baby Bjorn! But it has been fun to explore the local cafés and restaurants. For breakfast, we’ve stopped at a café called Chave d’Ouro (The Golden Key). I recommend a coconut cream-filled pastry with a large order of strong café com leite (coffee with milk). Superb. I still prefer cappuccinos, but the coffee here is also delicious.

Michael’s conference on pilgrimage and tourism at the University of Lisbon started today and runs through Sunday. On Saturday, we hope to visit Fátima and maybe check out a Fado performance. Até a próxima vez!

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A new café for a new month

It’s already September 1. Can you believe it? It’s starting to feel like fall in Pesaro, and I’m certainly not complaining.

This morning we tried a new café on via XI Settembre. While the barista was very friendly and I loved that he superimposed his face over Robert De Niro’s in a movie poster of “Quei Bravi Ragazzi” (GoodFellas), the cappuccino itself was mediocre. There was too much foam (which reminded me of an American cappuccino) and the coffee left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. However, I won’t write them off yet. The bar was filled with locals which was a nice change from all the tourists, and the friendly ambience is worth a second shot of espresso.

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Canning season

I went to the supermarket yesterday and the canning jars are back! It’s the season for pickling eggplants, peppers and zucchini–one of my favorite side dishes. Also, plums, peaches and figs are in season, so many Italians make preserves. In fact, the other day Michael was cornered by an elderly woman who was leaving fig preserves for a neighbor and she explained the entire process to him.

But, we’re no strangers to fruit preserves. Last year we helped Michael’s family do the  vendemmia (grape harvest) in Pietrelcina, and we reaped the benefits by taking home many bunches of grapes (later on, we also got to try the lovely homemade wine–from red and white grapes). We got too much, actually–if we didn’t make a few pies and some preserves, the grapes would have spoiled. We also made some plum jam in July . . . so, figs are next on the list!

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