The Rite of Winter in Umbria: La Spolpatura!

IMG_0001Nothing makes an Umbrian's eyes light up like hearing that there is going to be a pig roast!  And I'm not talking about throwing a few ribs on the grill... this is a full head to tail operation!  Every winter, families get together to butcher a pig.  The smaller cuts are put aside to be cured under salt - they will be ready in a few months (hint...just in time for Easter breakfast!), and the legs will be cured to make Prosciutto crudo... but we won't see those for another 18 months or so..... which leaves us with, well, everything else!

The first step is to boil the head.  I know this is a rough one for the unadventurous, but let me tell you, the tender meat from the head is really the best part!  Some is packed into sacks  - this will be chilled and henceforth known as Coppa di Testa (head cheese).  The other half is shredded, mixed with a little orange zest, oil and vinegar and tossed with some salad greens... henceforth known as heaven...

Next, the major cuts for grilling are broken down (ribs, pork chops, steaks, etc) and the rest is ground up, and mixed with a heavy dose of salt, black pepper and garlic to create that glorious Umbrian staple known as Salsicce (sausage). 

Last, but certainly not least.... the innards!  The liver is cut into chunks, wrapped in caul fat and skewered alongside fresh bay leaves.  These will be caramelized on the grill - who needs dessert when there are sweet fegatelli?!?  But we are not done yet!  The heart, lungs, kidneys, and other bits are chopped up and quickly stewed with a little bit of onion and vinegar to make Coratella.  Here we usually eat lamb coratella (again, see Easter breakast), but the pork coratella is even better!

Enjoy the photos below and think of an excuse to visit Umbria next winter!

Pictured below: the various cuts of pork, antipasto: prosciutto & coppa di testa, warm coppa di testa sald, bruschetta & sausage on the grill, sausage & coratella, fegatelli on the grill, fagioli con le cotiche (beans cooked with the skin of prosciutto).

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Ricotta Frappe for Carnival!

-1Many of you are preparing for your Superbowl party, but we here in Italy are in the midst of the Carnevale season, which means we eat a lot of fried sweet dough (there is always an excuse!)!

Here is a recipe for Frappe aka Chiacchiere, which, with the addition of ricotta cheese, turn out like the lightest most fluffiest funnel cake you have ever eaten.  Try them as they are very easy to make!

Frappe alla Ricotta

  • 500g flour (about 1 lb)
  • 15 g brewers yeast (a little more than half a cube), dissolved in 25 ml warm water
  • 25g (2 Tbs) butter, melted
  • 120g (1/3 cup) ricotta, well drained
  • 2 heaping Tbs sugar
  • pinch salt
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1 Tbs Mistrà or anise flavored liquor
  • 125 ml milk, just warmed
  • 1 liter sunflower seed or peanut oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup of warmed honey
  • powdered sugar
  1. In a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or just mix very well by hand), add flour, yeast with water, melted butter, ricotta, sugar.
  2. Mix well on low speed for a few minutes
  3.  Add salt, zest, mistra, mix well.
  4. Slowly add milk, mix well for a few minutes.
  5. Turn dough out onto a wooden cutting board and knead with your hands for a few minutes.
  6. The dough should be soft and pliable and not too sticky.
  7. Place the dough in large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
  8. Once risen, turn out the dough onto a large wooden cutting board and roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 2-3 mm - the thinner the better
  9. Cut into strips about 2 cm x 8 cm
  10. Twist the strips into any shape you like
  11. Meanwhile heat the oil in a wok (gives you depth and surface area) - you are deep frying.
  12. When the oil is hot, drop in the frappe, 4 or 5 at a time, they will puff up.
  13. The oil should be over medium heat. Hot enough that the frappe float immediately the oil bubbles, but not so hot that they burn.
  14. When they have browned on one side, turn them over and fry until the bubbles diminish.
  15. Drain on paper towels
  16. Drizzle with warmed honey and sprinkle with powdered sugar

For my Castagnole recipe (another Carnevale treat) read my post Lolita's Carnevale.


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The Infiorata of Cannara - Flower Power!

IMG_0517For anyone in Umbria on June 21-22, there is a wonderful festival called L'Infiorata going on.  Some of you may have heard of the more well-known version held in nieghboring Spello, but in my opinion, the Cannara version is a must!

The Infiorata is a 17th century Baroque celebration of the religious feast of Corpus Christi (known as Corpus Domini here in Italy).  It is one of those "moving holy days" so every year it falls on a different Sunday.  What happens is that local townspeople get together to line the streets with beautiful carpets of flowers, intricately laid to create stunning works of art, mostly with religious and cultural themes.

While in Spello the Inforata is created mostly by professionals, in our village of Cannara it is a local affair... which means a party!  For weeks before the event, flowers are harvested from the area.  Then on Saturday, which this year will be June 21st, all of the flowers are "prepared", meaning that they are all de-petalled, de-stemmed, and put through grinders to make sure that they are uniform.  After sunset, all of the townsfolk begin to lay the flowers down onto their respective designs along the streets to create their masterpieces.  The process continues throughout the night (until dawn) with a break around midnight for the Spaghettata, when some of the local women bring out pasta in the piazza for everyone to enjoy - then it's back to work!

The next morning, there is a Mass to celebrate Corpus Domini followed by a procession, during which the priest walks over the the flower carpets.  Don't worry, he usually treads lightly!  The carpets are left on display for the entire day and then are washed away until next year...

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The Infiorata has an extra special meaning for me because the very first Infiorata that I participated in was back in 2008, when I was still living in Foligno and no intentions of moving to this sleepy onion town... but when I looked back at the photos, I realized that I did the infiorata in front the house that we eventually bought!  It was kismet to say the least!

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That's me unknowingly "infiorat-ing" in front of my future home back in '08.

I will be live tweeting, instagramming and facebooking the Infiorata of Cannara June 21-22, with the hashtag #CannaraFlowerPower - follow along virtually if you can't be here!

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The Seven Year Itch (?)

Photo courtesy of Click Art di Paolo D'Antonio, Cannara (PG)

Last week I celebrated 7 years of living in Italy.  So what do I have to show for it?  Well, here are some of the good things/accomplishments:

  • Learned to speak Italian pretty fluently - I'm saving the complex verb tenses and vocabulary for when my kids start to learn them in school.
  • Got married twice (to the same person) - one courthouse wedding, and one church wedding - just to make sure I hit all the bases.
  • Adopted 2 cats (one of which is sadly in the clouds now).
  • Moved only once - a record for me as before moving to Italy I had moved 7 times between the years 1995-2005.
  • Opened a restaurant (which I later sold - see below for probable reason).
  • Popped out 2 kids (a girl and a boy).
  • Started a successful tourism business.
  • Got my Italian drivers' license, which involves memorizing a 342 page technical manual (in Italian) and understanding that you will fail if you don't open the car door with two hands (a gust of wind could blow the door open and humans are not strong enough to control a car door with one arm).
  • Have traveled to 16 of the 20 regions in Italy.

But... life here in Italy isn't all about flitting around in the countryside and drinking wine... well, we do drink our fair share of wine, but lately it's to drown our sorrows.... Italy is crashing.  Crashing hard.  It is in probably one of its worst financial crises since the Fall of the Roman Empire.  I've owned businesses in both the United States and Italy and I can tell you that it is much much much much harder to be an entrenpeneur here.  The politics of this country manuveur against its citizens and residents in every way possible (especially those who are working to bring tourism (€€) to the region).  The young people who are educated and have the potential to actually change something are all defecting to countries who embrace hardwork and ingenuity.  And the people who are left feel as they are being dug deeper and deeper into a hole, and the current political system has no interest, or intention, of rescuing them.

But... for better or worse, I am choosing to stay and raise my family here.  I have found a wonderful community of people who have become my family and my inspiration for this time and place of my life. 

And literally, as I finish writing this post, on the eve of the Epiphany, or Befana, as it is know locally here in Italy, a woman dressed up as the Befana (an ugly old woman who passes in the night to bring either candy or coal to the children...) just knocked on our door and left 2 giant stockings full of candy for my kids.  These are the little things that happen in my town, that in reality, are big things for me right now.  The true sense of community and small town life (which is really what draws us all to Italy) is a flame that is still flickering... it just needs a few puffs of air to turn it back into a bright, roaring fire.

The 12 Days of Umbrian Christmas


Sing along to "A Partridge in a Pear Tree" aka "A Coppa di Testa (Stuffed Back into a Pig's Head)":


On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...


IMG_617912 bottles of Umbrian wine



11 liters of extra-virgin olive oil MMG_2243

Photo 1(1)  10 types of Italian cookware


            9 Nativity scenes Photo 3



8 pounds of curing meats



                7 Sicilian oranges  Photo 3(1)

Photo 2 6 (00) grams of white truffles

5 Rotting Persimmons (perfect by Italian standards) Photo 4


Photo 3(2)

  4 Slimy eels (they're for Christmas eve)



                3 Panettone Photo 1(2)


Photo 2(1)2 Gingerbread Houses




... and a Coppa di Testa (Stuffed Back in to a Pig's Head)!

Photo 1

Happy Holidays!!!

The Dead Can Dance!

This weekend is the Weekend of the Dead, or I Morti, as it is commonly called here in Umbria, and it is a BIG holiday weekend... I'm actually having trouble choosing between events as, of course, there are the standards, but some new festivals are popping up too.... and let's not forget the big elephant in the room, Halloween

Here is a fairly complete list of festivals in Umbria for the weekend of November 1:

Al Mare... or 'Down the Shore...Italian Style


(For those not familiar with Philadelphian dialect, 'down the shore means at the beach.)

I've been writing about my time in Italy for almost 8 years now, and somehow it seems that I have never written about my absolute favorite part of Italian life, going to the beach! Here is my quick guide to navigating the shores of the boot:

1.  Which coast?
I haven't been to all of the beaches in all of the regions yet, but I have hit quite a few... and my conclusion is that, being an East Coast girl myself, I also prefer the beaches on the East Coast of Italy.  The main reason is that they cost less (at least those within a 2 1/2 hour drive of central Umbria)- the chic beaches on the Tyrrhenian Sea (Tuscany and the Amalfi area can cost more than double of those on the Adriatic).


Continue reading "Al Mare... or 'Down the Shore...Italian Style" »

♪ These are a Few of My Favorite Things ♩ ♬

This time of year, "my favorite things" have nothing to do with Christmas (well, with one exception), but with the seasonal products that we can only find NOW!

-1Who is better than Babbo Natale?  The Orange Man!  As soon as the temperatures start dipping, I keeps my eyes peeled, waiting patiently for his truck to appear one day on the side of the road.  My particular orange man comes up from Sicily a few times a week, loaded with the sweetest oranges, mandarins and lemons.  Just take a look at this picture - the mandarin is the one on the left - it is as big as a baseball!  You won't find those in the supermarket!

Continue reading "♪ These are a Few of My Favorite Things ♩ ♬" »

It's beginning to look a lot like...



Which means that it is time for Christmas Markets or the Mercatini di Natale.  I personally really love to go to the Christmas markets - helps get me into the  spirit - and if you choose carefully, you can also support local artisans and craftsmen instead of... well, you know...

Umbria is not as well know for it's Christmas markets as other parts of Italy -  such as the traditional Northern markets in the Dolomite area or the Nativity-paloozas down in Naples, but there are still a lot of festive, charming options. 

Continue reading "It's beginning to look a lot like..." »

Thanks + Giving

Well, I've said it before and I will say it again:  Thanksgiving is actually more fun in Italy than it is in the states.  I think it is because Italians get even more excited than we do about the thought of a giant roasted, stuffed turkey (as a rule, turkeys do not get roasted whole here).  In the past I've done all or most of the cooking (especially when I held our annual Thanksgiving at my ex-restaurant Basiliko'). This year I had a pot-luck  at Palazzo delle Signorine in Cannara with a mix of American and Italian guests - and it turned out to be the best Thanksgiving yet! (I even convinced an Italian friend to take a stab at making Green Bean Casserole - which was a hit, of course, and made Hot Turkey Sandwiches for the post-party stragglers... I will conceal the identity of the person who ate THREE!)


(more photos on the Life Italian Style Facebook page - like it!)

So in the spirit of the holiday season, I just wanted to take a moment to THANK all of the people who GAVE support to Life Italian Style this year:  tourists and travellers, tour operators, my partners, friends old and new, and especially the writers and bloggers who have been so kind as to mention me in their contributions.  I hope I was able to GIVE back to all of you a memorable (and delicious) experience in Umbria!

GRAZIE MILLE! to the following writers:

Adventurous Kate: The Ultimate Umbrian Feast

Legal Nomads: Photoessay - Umbria in Three Days

Landing Standing: Tradition: The Secret to Umbrian Cuisine

Solo Traveler: Solo Travelers Celebrate - and think Umbria

Hipmunk: Terre Margaritelli in Umbria: Food, Wine & Romance

The Looptail/Gadventures: 5 Lesser-Known Places to Visit in Umbria

Come for the Wine: Wines of Italy Series - Terre Margaritelli

Brigolante: Italy Roundtable: Zen and the Art of Making Gnocchi

Vindulge: Makin' Gnocchi - The Recipe

Vindulge & IWINETC: Terre Margaritelli Winery - Umbrian Hospitality

Messina Hof: Terre Margaritelli Winery