sour dough bread

“Don’t Eat the Stale Bread Dry”

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When I was 19, a few weeks after my Nonna Concetta died, I had a dream about her. Me and my cousins were in a car, cruising around Ischia, one of the islands in the bay of Naples where my grandmother was from. We came across a house on top of a hill. My grandmother was standing in the doorway in her housedress and apron while her sister Zia Carmelina, who had passed away within weeks of my grandmother, was walking up the hill. I leaned out the window, shouting and waving and smiling. “A-Nonnn! A-Nonnnnn!” (which is Neapolitan dialect for La Nonna.)

The car slowed down and she looked at me with a serious face and said to me cryptically in dialect, “Don’t eat the stale bread dry. Make sure it has some juice on it.”

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I keep going back to this thing that she said. Especially lately since we’re making the slow plans to move back to Italy.

Growing up, in our house it was a sin to throw away bread. Partly for religious reasons since bread was considered Jesus’ body, but also because you don’t throw food away. (When we had a surplus of stale bread that was too much to consume, Mom would get around it by throwing the bread out in the backyard to ‘feed the animals.’)

I think in the dream she was trying to tell me something that she had found out once she made it to the other side of life. “Make sure it has some juice on it.” Don’t just swallow what you think you have to swallow, make sure it tastes good. Don’t turn your back on something that is old and stale, look it in the eye, take some control and make it taste good again. Make it your own.

Do you think she was talking about Italy? Perhaps to her and my mom and her brother and sisters, Italy was old and stale, full of sad memories of the war and poverty. But for me, if I put some juice on it, I can make it my own, make it taste good and make it home again.

 

Nonna Concetta and Zi'Adelina, Napoli, 1983

Nonna Concetta and Zi’Adelina, Napoli, 1983

How to Get into Europe

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Since immigration laws for non-EU citizens in Europe are getting stricter by the minute, if you’re really serious about moving to Europe and staying here, you’ll need a visa. Laws also change quickly, so please check the consulate or embassy page for up-to-date information.

How to Get into Europe

The EU is made up of two zones: the Schengen area and the non-Schengen area. The non-Schengen area consists of Ireland and the UK. The Schengen area consists of mostly continental Europe. If you travel within the Schengen territory, you don’t need to show your passport in each country that you enter. So if you fly from Rome to Athens, you’re not going to go through passport control.

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From: http://ec.europa.eu

From: http://ec.europa.eu

Tourist Visa:

Americans don’t need a tourist visa to enter the EU.

UK and Ireland: You’re allowed to stay as a tourist for a total of 180 months within a 12 month period.

Schengen Europe: You’re allowed to say for a total of 90 days within a 6 month period.

*In the past, a lot of non-EU peeps thought that they could stay in Italy or another country without a visa and leave the country for the a short weekend or a visit back home and come back in to renew their tourist visa. But that’s not the law. Some countries might seem to have lax border controls at the airport, but you don’t want to test them to find out. No one in Italy had ever asked to see my permesso di soggiorno in Italy, but whenever I flew into London, they always asked to see my permesso and asked me personal detailed questions about where I lived, where I studied, whether I was dating anyone in the UK, etc. etc. This shit is no joke.

The EU Blue Card:

This has been implemented in recent years  and had I known about it then, I probably would have taken advantage of it. This is probably your best bet for getting a working visa if you want to move to continental Europe.

This visa is for highly skilled workers that want to work in Europe. Countries excluded from the Blue Card are Ireland and the UK. It entitles you to work and benefits in your country of residence and free movement within the Schengen area. It also allows you to apply for permanent residence between 2 and 5 years depending on the country you reside in.

Requirements for the Blue Card:

-non-EU citizen

-must have completed higher education

-must have a work contract or a binding offer from an employer

*If you’re in the Schengen area on a student visa, you’ll be allowed to switch to a Blue Card visa provided that you find an employer.

Student Visa

Whether you want to do a university course or study the language long-term, you’re going to need a student visa. Depending on the country you live in, you may be allowed to work on a student visa.

UK: At the moment in the UK, if you’re on a student you’re allowed to work up to 20 hours a week. For those making applications from 3 August 2015 and on, you will not be allowed to workThe cost for a UK student visa is £322. 

Italy: In Italy, you’re allowed to work up to 20 hours a week. There is no visa fee. Once you arrive in Italy on your visa, you are required to apply for a permesso di soggiorno. Most schools will help you with that. *The nice thing about this is that you would be able to make contact with employers while on a student visa and be able to apply for a Blue Card without them having to sponsor you for a work visa.

Work Visa

A work visa is one in which your employer sponsors you for a visa. This is quite difficult to get because under EU laws, the employer would have to demonstrate that you are more qualified for the job than any other EU-member candidate. So if you have a skill like able to speak Chinese or Russian than that would put you at higher advantage of getting your visa approved. BUT it’s not impossible and there are also a lot of American companies based in Italy and the UK that might have an easier time sponsoring you for a visa.

Elective Residency in Italy

This is a visa that allows you to reside in Italy, but not work. It is usually given to retirees who can prove that they can live without working. This is the visa that I got when I first moved to Rome in order to do a six-month internship. I applied through the consulate in London and maybe my Italian name and speaking to them in Italian charmed them because I don’t know how else I could have gotten it. I’m sure that if I had applied to through the consulate in New York, they wouldn’t have given it to me. I’ve read some places online that in New York they’re dicks (which I’m not surprised about) and you have to be a millionaire in order to get the visa. Go figure. As with any Italian visa, once you arrive in Italy, you must apply for a permesso di soggiorno.

 

 

 

 

Recipe of Cannellini Summer Soup

Recipe: Cannellini Summer Soup

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After a week of eating like pigs in Venice, I came back craving a simple soup my mom used to make during the summer. She used to make this whether we were in Napoli or back in the Hudson Valley with beans and tomatoes from the garden.

This soup is perfect for one of those hot lazy summer evenings where all you want to do is just sit at the table and listen to the insects outside. (Difficult to do in London, but that’s what imagination is for.) All you do is dump the ingredients into a pot of water and fire up the stove. Once it starts to boil, the sweet shallots open up their pores and the kitchen fills up with the smell of a savoury garden. With just a tiny bit of oil and salt at the end, it feels so good It’s so good and makes you feel like you’re cleaning your insides with a hose of beans.

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Cannellini Summer Soup

 

Cannellini Summer Soup

500 grams of fresh or dried (soaked) cannellini beans (or 2 cans)

a big healthy handful of cherry tomatoes

2 bay leaves

2-3 shallots

a clove of garlic (crushed with the palm of your hand)

salt

 

Garnishes:

olive oil

parsely or basil

grated parmigiano or other hard cheese (I used Piave Stravecchio from the Veneto region. When we come to visit, my mother-in-law ships us back home with half a suitcase of cheese.)

 

1. Chop the shallots in small chunks, not too fine.

2. Wash and chop the tomatoes in half.

3. Put in a pot the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, tomatoes, and beans with about a liter of water.

4. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. If using fresh or dried beans, simmer for 40 minutes. If using canned or already cooked beans, cook for 20 mins.)

5. Add salt to taste just at the end.

6. Serve with a spiral of olive oil, some chopped parsley or basil leaves, and some grated cheese on top. It’s nice hot, lukewarm, or even cold.

Pierofrancesco Favino having a good time filming a San Pellegrino commercial

Eating is Fun! Just Ask These Italians.

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I think eating is the funnest thing to do! I love hanging out and eating with my friends. Especially if it’s at one of our houses. But in London it gets difficult because people would rather meet up for a drink than go to someone’s house for dinner. Maybe because there are more people in a pub or bar and on an empty stomach, you have the fast chance to get drunk and make out with someone. But shit, eating is social, and you can have better conversations when you’re high on protein.

Check out this San Pelligrino ad. It features the actor Pierfrancesco Favino (who I never realised was so hot until I saw him tossing salt over his shoulder.) Anyway, it’s the middle of the night in a hotel in Shanghai and he’s jetlagged, rolling around in his sheets wearing his tailored suit. (Always the bella figura). So what does he do? He calls up his travel buddies and they break into the kitchen and cook some pasta. In suits.

It’s like it’s the Fourth of July and they just saw an epic firework display. They’re HAPPY. Instead of just eating some snack by themselves and suffering alone, they get to cook and eat together and then go to bed with a full stomach and a nice buzz.

 

A Spritz in Venice

The Spritz – A Classic Venetian Drink

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“Dood, dood. We got a situation,” Davide said to me, meaning only one thing.

I had just felt the first rumble of my stomach and was so excited he was hungry, too. I sunk to one knee and did a fist pump.

“YES!”

It was a hot afternoon in the Veneto and we were at his parents. They were taking a nap and it was the perfect moment to sneak out of the house and hit the bacaro for a spritz.

This amazing concoction is something I had never tried until I met Davide. Growing up, all the Neapolitan doods that I knew like my dad and uncles made their wine at home and while we all ate and drank like pigs at mealtimes, there was no concept of the aperitivo that came from Northern Italy.

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You could sort of think of the apertivo as a cocktail hour, that starts around five, but when you start thinking about the spritz, which is so much more than a cocktail, and the snacks go along with it, then you’re hitting upon what makes Venice what it is.

venice

The Spritz

Three main factors are needed for a soul blasting spritz:

1. Prosecco

2. Soda water

3. Aperol, Campari, or Select (any of these dry alcoholic aperitifs will do)

Percentage parts of these three vary from town to town or bartender to bartender or day to day.

A good spritz that I find ben caricato (fully charged) has two parts prosecco, 1 aperol, just a splash of water and shitload of olives in it. I like it not too sweet so I can eat tons of savoury goodies, known as Venetian cicchetti. Things like fried fish, salted cod puree, zucchini flowers stuffed with anchovies, fried mozzarella, and crostini slathered with gorgonzola and radicchio. (God, I’m so hungry while typing this, I want to eat my hand.)

The drink has become popular over the world, but it is quintisentially a Venetians drink. You walk around Venice and anywhere in the Veneto and all places, even a little hole in the wall bar will make you a spritz. The spritz came about in the early part of the 19th century when Venice was under the Austrian Hapsburg rule. The Austrians weren’t used to the strong prosecco so they’d ask to splash (spritzen) some water into it.  The drink has evolved over the centuries and once carbonated soda came about and the aromatic apertifs like Campari, Aperol and Select it became the perfect Venetian drink.

*Side-note.

Oddly, the best spritz I’ve ever had was not in Venice, but in New York City, made by my friend Giovanni Bartocci at the Roman-Italian restaurant Via della Pace in the East Village.