Winter slow-roasted tomatoes

Merry almost Christmas! Why am I posting about tomatoes? It is the first day of winter and tomatoes are at their peak in the thick heat of the summer, not in this cold, cold winter. The reason is a few weeks back my mother-in-law gave me a quart of cherry tomatoes. My father-in-law had bought them at the supermarket because she likes to munch on them year-round, but apparently he had bought the wrong kind so she passed them along to us in case we would eat them.

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Ready for the oven

I consider it a gift (or a curse) of mine to not waste food. I either try to repurpose it or eat it as is. Sometimes I forgive myself if I realize I’m taking it a little too far and I will throw something away, but most of the time I try to think of creative ways to use it. Though I like tomatoes, I don’t get excited about eating them by the handful, particularly in the off season when they tend to be lackluster. When I worked at a country club in Ohio we would roast the little beauties in a low oven with dried herbs and oil until they puckered into sweet, intensified tomato gems. To be honest, I can’t remember how we served them after that: on salads perhaps, or as part of an appetizer. However you decide to use them, they will make a most excellent winter condiment to spice up your lunch sandwich, mix into your pasta, or to toss into your green salad. There is really no recipe, just guidelines, so take them with a grain of salt.

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Blistered and beautiful

Roasted Tomatoes

inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1 quart of cherry or grape tomatoes

1 head of fresh garlic

salt, pepper, and other herbs

olive oil or canola oil

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F. Rinse tomatoes and slice in half from stem to bottom. Toss to coat in oil, a tablespoon or two maybe. Sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper, and other herbs desired such as thyme, rosemary, or basil. Break up the garlic into cloves (unpeeled) and toss with tomatoes. Spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and roast until puckered and sweet. This should take 1-2 hours. Let cool or use right away. You can keep the garlic cloves whole and peel them before use or peel and chop finely or mash into tomatoes. If you don’t use right away, feel free to store in the fridge with a little bit of oil. Note that if you use olive oil it will solidify around the tomatoes in large yellowy chunks, but it will liquefy again when heated.

Possible uses: Mix into pasta, soups, salads, or sandwiches.

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Post 108 – Homemade Mac and Cheese… and what to do with the leftovers

Sunday macaroni and cheese was an unspoken tradition for my family growing up. We came home from church, hungry for lunch (despite the cookies we probably gobbled down at “coffee hour”) and looking for something quick and tasty. My mom cooked plenty of homemade meals when I was young, but for reasons unknown we always had the blue box Kraft Mac n’ Cheese instead of homemade. Perhaps Mom had grown up on it too. Perhaps she wanted something quick and easy. Perhaps her three daughters had tried homemade mac and cheese and turned their noses up at it. Who knows.

IMG_1311We loved it of course and made it pretty much every Sunday. It counted as the main meal, though now and then we’d mix in some cut-up hot dogs while our parents opted for the more adult mix of canned tuna mac.

At some point, however, I learned how to make the basic roux (flour and butter) that started any good bechamel sauce. Mom probably used it at some point to make nacho sauce or homemade mac and cheese, but in general, I remember the Kraft mac and cheese – the familiar blue box, the bright orange powder packet, the black pepper our neighbor and babysitter, Lee, always put on his.

IMG_1314As an adult I have tried making mac and cheese, but always to my disappointment. It’s hard to compare to that bright cheesy flavor and color that I remember from my childhood. The flavor always seems to miss the mark. I’ve made it at work with butternut squash mixed in (that obviously changes the flavor) and for the growing toddlers almost 5-year old twins I cook for who request it every time they see me (not because it’s particularly good, but because it’s a kid-approved favorite). Nonetheless I have yet to find a recipe I’m thrilled about. This one gets me much closer. I’m sure the kind of cheese you use makes all the difference.

IMG_1318In my Cookbook Challenge adventures for this week, I turned to a compilation of recipes from Lamar County in Georgia where my aunt and her family live. She has a love for cooking as I do and has given me several cookbooks throughout the years, including this one. Though I was tempted to make many of the student-submitted recipes for “a saled” with “curumbers” and “geshin” (dressing), I chose this mac and cheese recipe instead. I modified the recipe slightly, making more noodles for the amount of cheese sauce called for, and was very happy with the results. It has a slight mustard-y taste, which I don’t mind so much, but I tried to adjust for it in my version here. I also used my favorite brand of Dijon mustard – Maille – which is particularly pungent. Also, her recipe originally calls for extra sharp cheddar and I only used sharp cheddar. You choose which one you prefer.

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It certainly doesn’t have that bright orange color that Kraft does, but it made for some lip-licking mac and cheese.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

adapted from A++ Recipes from Lamar County

1/2 lb. elbow pasta

1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

1/3 cup chicken broth

1 T. butter

2.5 T. all-purpose flour

1/2-1 tsp. Dijon mustard

2.5 T. grated Parmesan

5 oz. shredded sharp cheddar

salt and pepper to taste

Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt and the elbow noodles. Stir to break up the noodles and cook according to the package directions (5-7 minutes) until al dente. Drain the noodles and spread out on a cookie sheet or large dish to cool so they don’t stick together. In a microwave-safe measuring cup, heat the evaporated milk and chicken broth until hot and steaming, but not boiling (1-2 minutes in the microwave). Meanwhile in the same pot, melt the butter, add the flour and stir. Gradually whisk in the milk mixture, carefully breaking up any clumps if you can. At this point it may look very curdled and chunky, but as long as most of the lumps are out, it will be fine when the dish is finished.

Continue to whisk until the milk mixtures thickens a bit, 3 minutes or so. Whisk in the mustard and Parmesan. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheddar until melted. Add the cooled pasta, stir to incorporate and reheat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh fresh ground black pepper or garlic powder.

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WAIT WAIT WAIT! Don’t go away. This is a two-in-one deal. “What to do with the leftovers?” you say!

Leftover macaroni just doesn’t have the same creamy appeal as the fresh from the stove version, but that doesn’t mean you should let those leftovers go to waste in the fridge. If you’re feeling extra decadent, just waffle it.

What?

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That’s right, waffle it. (Waffle is now a verb). What could be better (and healthier -ha!) than breaded and waffle-fied mac and cheese? Daniel Shumski’s book Will it Waffle? fulfills all your waffle fantasies. I bought this book as an impulse buy at Brookline Booksmith. Shumski himself was there giving out waffled samples and promoting his book. Feeling bold I went over to talk with him (I’d seen the blog) and ended up buying the book (with the intention of giving it to someone for Christmas). My mac and cheese solidified magnificently, making it especially easy for breading. This recipe adds a great crunch and pizzazz to an otherwise stiff leftover dish.

Waffled Mac and Cheese

adapted from Will it Waffle?

Leftover Macaroni and Cheese (see above recipe)

2 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

non-stick cooking spray

Heat your waffle iron to medium if possible (mine only has on or off and it worked well).

Cut the macaroni into slices about 1/2 thick. If it is much thicker, it may not heat all the way through without burning your breading. Set up three shallow bowls – the first with the flour, the second with the eggs and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and the third with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan. If your breadcrumbs are plain you might consider adding a sprinkle of black pepper or garlic powder (as I did to my Panko crumbs).

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Now carefully dredge your macaroni slices, one at a time, in the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Put in the middle of a well-sprayed or greased preheated waffle iron. Close the lid and press down gently. Allow to cook for 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Carefully remove with a spatula and/or tongs and enjoy hot! Repeat with remaining macaroni slices.

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Bon appetit! Two more cookbooks checked off my list!

Post 86 – Summer Pasta Salad

Happy 4th of July! (Happy wedding month!) Happy summer!

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If you’re looking for a delicious potluck picnic dish this July 4th, here is a crowd-pleasing pasta salad recipe. I based the idea on a simple salad my mom used to make for us in the summer. She’d mix pasta, kielbasa, chunks of cheese, and fresh veggies and toss them in a light vinaigrette. It made a nice summer salad because all you had to do was cook the pasta and the rest was assembled cold. My version calls for roasting the vegetables and pan-searing the sausage, which adds an extra layer of flavor that is not to be missed, though these steps do add extra time and labor and if it’s too hot to run the oven you might be tempted to skip it. However, if you make a big batch of this, you only have to run the oven once and you have lunch for the whole week. Try it once. I promise it’s delicious.

To roast your veggies, simply chop them up into even pieces (not too small as they do shrink slightly when roasting). Coat lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees on a parchment lined baking sheet. The key to good roasting is spreading them out so they don’t touch each other.

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Look at these beautiful roasted grape tomatoes!

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Pan-sear the sausage for extra flavor. First cut the links in half lengthwise and then into bite-size pieces. Sear in a hot un-greased skillet for a few minutes on each side.

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Basil chiffonade adds fresh summer flavor

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And then your pasta of course – I chose Tinyada rice noodles this time.

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Put it all together

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photo 3(29)Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil. Add your favorite cheese in cubes. Refrigerate until serving time!

 

Summer Pasta Salad

(as usual this recipe has been written by estimating as I tend to not measure these days…)

1 lb. pasta

1 large zucchini

1 large summer squash

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, whole, unpeeled (optional)

2 T. fresh basil chiffonade

1 lb. kielbasa or Italian sausages, pre-cooked

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

1/4 pound cubed provolone or other cheese

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Half the tomatoes lengthwise and toss with a small amount of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add a few whole cloves of garlic to roast with them as well if you like. Spread out on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and roast in the oven while you cut the squash.

Dice the zucchini and squash into bigger than bite-size cubes (they shrink as they roast) and toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and put in the oven with the tomatoes. Roast the tomatoes until they begin to shrivel and caramelize slightly, probably 25-35 minutes. Roast the squash until it browns slightly, turning the pieces and stirring them if desired for more even browning.

While the veggies are roasting, prepare your sausage. Slice in half lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces. Heat a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. When hot, add some of the sausages cut side down without any oil, (being sure not to crowd them) and cook for a few minutes before flipping to the other side to cook for a few minutes more. Remove the cooked pieces and cook the remaining sausages the same way. Let cool. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions (I recommend in lightly salted water), drain, and rinse with cold water.

Pour the pasta into a large bowl and toss with a splash of balsamic vinegar (start with 1 tablespoon at a time) and a bigger splash of olive oil. Sprinkle with black pepper and your fresh basil chiffonade. Toss well to coat. When vegetables and sausage have cooled, carefully stir them into the pasta. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary by adding more vinegar, oil, salt, or pepper. Add the cheese cubes or keep them on the side until ready to serve. They will be fine if you mix them in now, though they do become a little softer.  Refrigerate or serve slightly warm as is.

Bon Appetit!

 

 

Post 28 – A Day in the Life in Vernazza

Our lives are all glamorous when you look at the bullet points:

  • graduated from fill-in-the-blank college
  • got a good job
  • moved to a beautiful city

At a quick glance, we are all envious of another person’s fortune, how lucky they must have it, how good his life is, but you don’t see all the boredom, frustration, and contemplation that goes into it (of course!). Like a movie montage you see a chunk of years summarized in two minutes, the character’s victories highlighted and the hard parts skimmed over. Even my accounts of Italy are just the nice bullet points. The in-betweens include smelly Italian excuses for toilets (porcelain holes in the ground with foot rests for squatting) and the sweaty dragging of luggage across a foreign city. You know that phrase the grass is greener on the side? It’s true right. Just remember that – no matter which side of the fence you’re on, the grass is always greener. (The secret to life: Don’t let it be).

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Vernazza is one of those towns where you look at the people living there, along side the water with the beautiful views and the miles of hiking trails, and think of how grand their lives must be. You see this idyllic, seaside town and try to imagine what it’s like to live there, you assume sunny skies day in and day out, swimming in the Mediterranean, and eating delicious food every day. But you know, those are just the bullet points (and only for some people). Just reassure yourself that most of the people living there are probably just living normal lives (just somewhere else than you). Maybe they’re really happy or maybe they’re really not. Just because they live in Italy their lives aren’t inherently better, right?

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For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages, the fourth of which is Vernazza, along the northwestern coast of Italy. These seaside towns were built into steep hills so they all boast plenty of stairs and hiking trails for the exercising types. They each have their own personality and they are all connected via trails or trains. Two years ago a major flood hit Vernazza (and some of the other villages) and its citizens scrambled to make repairs, knowing how important it was for their livelihood to get the town back in order. The damage was extensive, but they have recovered amazingly since then and we enjoyed the village (and its sister villages) as lovely as they had ever been. If you didn’t know about the flood though, you would’ve hardly noticed they’d suffered.

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After taking a stroll through the brief strip of “town,” we spent the afternoon hiking towards Monterosso, enjoying the breath-taking views (Sam: “I need to remember this view when I’m back at work in a few weeks”) and stumbling upon beautiful churches built way up in the hillside (how did they get all the building materials up here?). Every once in a while we’d a house way up in the hills or a above-ground cemetery adorned with colorful flowers. As we climbed the views got more gorgeous and the trail was steep up and down.

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After a few hours of hiking, we came back down and changed for dinner. The choices are limited when staying in a tiny village, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious. This pizza place pictured below looked promising.

This pizza place made cool shapes out of their dough

This pizza place made cool shapes out of their dough

We opted instead for seafood in the seaside town. We sat outside and enjoyed picturesque views from sea level.

So you can't see the sea in this photo, but the view was nice.

So you can’t see the sea in this photo, but the view was nice.

We each ordered our own giant bowl of pesto pasta (having learned our lesson to not share delicious pasta after Bologna’s tortellini), having read that the villages were well known for their pesto and focaccia.

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Three of us also ordered our own grilled fish, which arrived whole on the plate, black and browned from the grill and decorated with carrots and lemon. I felt like a far less-seasoned Julia Child as I tried to delicately pry the flesh off the tiny bones, though I don’t know that I succeeded. The fish tasted mild but fresh and went well with my giant plate of trofie al pesto. The night ended with a gelato of course – this one in tough competition with Bologna’s second round. They had my absolute favorite flavor, cinnamon, and a delicious amareno, which was a creamy gelato with dark, sweet cherries folded in.

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We sat on the steps along the water as the sun began to set, thinking how sweet and slow life felt at that very moment. If this is a normal day for a resident of Vernazza, my musings of greener grass can’t be that far off, I think as my feet dangle over the darkening, blue water of the Mediterranean.

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Then again, we are nothing more than strangers stumbling upon a village with moving parts and people, speculating on the wonders of everyday life in a town that has worked so hard to rebuild after a major natural disaster. The grass may look greener leaning over the fence, but down into the roots and far into the field, the color fades and the work behind it remains hidden. I salute the people of Vernazza for restoring their town so wonderfully and giving me a chance to see it as an idyllic world in a bubble. I hope their own grass seems greenest to them.

Post 27 – Beautiful Bologna

After Ferrara’s wedding weekend events, it seemed like our next stop in Bologna would be quiet and potentially disappointing. Quiet it was, since our company of international friends had dwindled down to only us two, but disappointing it was not. We dragged our suitcases through the shaded (thankfully) porticoes of the city to get to our B&B, struggled with an Italian pay phone to get a hold of the B&B owner, and finally set our suitcases down in our comfy room. Despite the bumpy start, it didn’t take long to see the charm of Bologna.

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It was in Bologna where we ate gelato twice in one day (upon regretting buying the smallest size after lunch, we vowed to get more after dinner). It was in Bologna where we fell in love with (and wished we’d ordered more) homemade tortellini filled with pistachio and ricotta and paired with salty pancetta. It was from the top of a tall tower after climbing four hundred something steps that we saw the beautiful city of red roofs and orange and yellow houses. In Bologna we poked our heads into silent, decorated churches and wondered how all the beautiful ceilings could have such different details from one to another.

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Our tour of this university town started out in the main plaza, Piazza Maggiore, where the great fountain of Neptune becomes a gathering place for students and tourists alike. People drape themselves on the steps of the library, taking in the sun and sculpting their cones of gelato with each flick of the tongue. We joined in the gelato-slurping with them, feeling half drowsy in the afternoon heat, half like we should carpe the diem (as Sam would say).

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We decided to take on the stairs of one of the two grand towers and climb to the top. When we reached the top, we were rewarded with the beautiful views and the soft breeze. It was amazing seeing the city from above, the uniformity of the colors of the houses, though despite the sameness the city still had a lot of character.

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After taking some photos, we climbed back down (trying not to look too far down the steep stair case) and headed back to the B&B to get ready for dinner.

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Upon the recommendation of Giovanni, our host, we wandered over to La Traviata for dinner where we found ourselves once again dining outdoors. The owner, a patient Italian woman who spoke a charming blend of Italish, told us the specials of the day. We ordered, despite me being completely unsure about what I would be eating. The pistachio-ricotta tortellini was a no-brainer (because it sounded delicious – and it was soo delicious),

The picture doesn't do much, but this pasta was amazing

The picture doesn’t do much, but this pasta was amazing. On top is the pancetta.

but the fasera that I ordered for my main course still remains a mystery (“It’s similar to chicken… no it’s not turkey.” Italian speakers – please help me out). It tasted good, but I really have no idea what I ate. Sam ordered a salad of arugula, Parmesan, and steak that he enjoyed and we shared a bottle of Lambrusco.

Quail? Quinea hen? I don't know.

Quail? Guinea hen? I don’t know. Served with grilled polenta.

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Our evening ended with one of the best gelato tastings of the trip at the Sorbetteria Castiglione, a modern looking shop off the main tourist roads serving an assorted, yet traditional array of flavors. We both enjoyed the dulce de leche and began eating it so eagerly that I skipped taking a picture. Our evening concluded with a romantic stroll through the lighted porticoes that are ubiquitous in the city.

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The next morning we said goodbye to the beautiful city after a lovely breakfast of fruit, pastry, and bread (eaten in an elegant room that makes me want it call it a salon or sitting room for some reason).

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Though we enjoyed our Bologna visit, we saw most of what we came to see. Now we were off to the western coast for the breath-taking views and hilly terrain in the small but inviting villages of Cinque Terre.

Post 26 – Wined and Dined in Italy

Picture this: sloping rows of green vines perfectly spaced apart stretching far as your eye can see criss-crossed with yellow-brown stripes of earth in multiple golden hues. If you squint you can see dangling pale green globes clustered on their vines, somewhat hidden amidst the overall shades of green. Despite having arrived unromantical-ly on a narrow, winding road (maybe its a rustic kind of romantic) via a bumping bus (though no complaining – the bus had A/C and comfortable seats. I just get motion sickness easily) you suddenly feel transported to the set of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun (well, ignoring the fact that you’re not in Tuscany. Details, details).

This is wedding feast part two and well actually, despite my brief description you actually don’t have to picture it ‘cause here’s a picture for you right here.

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The wedding weekend concluded rather splendidly as it had begun with a generous feast of Italian food and wines, rather appropriately situated at a vineyard in a restaurant nestled among the rows of grapes. It’s a day for agriturismo, they had told us, so I figured we’d see some grape vines, get a tour of the vineyard, and have a light lunch. After the previous day’s meal, why did I ever think a light lunch was on the menu?

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When we arrived at Corte d’Aibo, we were told that we could wander the grounds and feel free to take breaks as we wished during the meal. There was another wedding party seated outside on the restaurant’s porch so we were led to a long table inside. Another epic meal began with a lightly dressed salad of greens, fruit, and nuts, a welcome change from the usual prosciutto (who am I to complain about too much prosciutto!)

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The vineyard’s own wines were of course featured with the meal. A selection of fresh pastas (of course) followed the salad, only each pasta was brought out individually so that we gorged ourselves on each one, expecting each to be the last one. We had no printed menu to prep ourselves for the feast ahead and so we ate, and let me say these pastas were definitely some of the best food we had the whole trip.

There was the cheesy zucchini and ham pasta cooked perfectly al dente.

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Then they brought us the tagliatelle with ragu (of course). Also delicious though not my favorite.

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The final pasta was a rich and flavorful truffle pasta.

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We decided after our decadent pasta course to take an exercise break to make more room. The boys played some Foosball and I wandered the beautiful grounds.

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After a brief pause, we were summoned back to the table for our main course – a steak with potatoes, arugula, and green beans and a red wine dressed beef dish with stuffed tomatoes. Both were flavorful and savory, though not as good as the tenderloin from the night before.

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The meal ended with a simple tray of sweets, as was to be expected, though it came nowhere close to the generous selection from Saturday night. We also sipped a strong walnut liqueur that tasted similar to Port wine.

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Both Saturday and Sundays meals proved not only to be delicious, but also a wonderful opportunity to meet all of the bride and groom’s friends. The group represented a wide range of cultures and languages spoken and everyone had a different life story to share, yet all of them able to do so in English. During our meals, I spoke with a young woman from Poland who knew fluent Italian as well as English and who was working on her French because her current work had taken her to Paris. Another man was raised speaking French and English thanks to his parents, though he could also speak Italian and Russian quite comfortably due to his experiences abroad.

I am often in awe thinking of how naturally and easily non-native speakers communicate in English when many Americans have little interest in studying foreign languages. In many countries in Europe, learning a second or even third language is a mandatory part of schooling and happens very early so that most children upon graduating can get by in English without trouble.

Though I think food speaks for itself and is an easy vehicle through which to connect with someone, speaking a foreign language can lead to amazing connections. I am grateful to the bride and groom for taking us to the rolling green hills and beautiful villas of Italy if not only for the delightful food, but also the rich conversation and the chance to connect through language.

Sadly, our stay in Ferrara ended on Sunday, though we made sure it was on a positive note. After a sleepy bus ride back from Corte d’Aibo and some down time at the Villa, Sam and I enjoyed dinner at a pizzeria on a beautiful side street in the city center (yeah I know, we ate again even after such a large feast).

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We biked home under the darkening sky, returning for one last night at the magical Villa where we said our goodbyes to friends and family, anxious and excited for the next celebration.

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Post 25 – Ferrara Feasts and a Wedding

Friday – The Arrival

Our first glimpse of the beautiful city of Ferrara was the Villa Horti della Fasanara, a picturesque bed and breakfast on a gravel road not far from the city center. We entered through the closed gates of the Villa to a long stone walkway leading up to a grand brick house with a beautiful balcony above the front door – the kind you can just picture some Italian man leaning out of while calling out to his lover below.

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We met the bride’s family for the first time as well as some of the couple’s friends and again marveled at the challenges and wonders of language. Her Bulgarian parents speak no English so she and her brother served as translators for the first meeting of the two families. After settling in to our glamorous lofted room with its own sitting area and bed and bath upstairs, we dressed for dinner and headed into town by foot and by bicycle for aperitivos.

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One thing I love about Italy is its abundance of outdoor seating. Almost every evening while in Italy we ate outside, taking in the scenery and the breeze while we savored our pasta and wine. For Friday’s (rehearsal) dinner (of sorts), we gathered at a café in the main plaza and shared glasses of spritz and Prosecco along side bites of capers and puff pastry morsels (along with potato chips – totally wasn’t expecting that one). The immediate families of the bride and groom continued to dinner at Cusina E Butega, a modern looking restaurant serving classic Ferrara dishes such as the cappellacci di zucca, a fresh pasta filled with pumpkin and topped with ragu (tomato and meat sauce). Our table was right next to the kitchen, so I frequently stole glances of the chefs preparing the dishes every time the automatic door opened (another cool feature of a very modern restaurant).

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As a lover of filled pasta I ordered the signature dish and quite enjoyed it, though Sam’s cappelletti in brodo di cappone (“meat-filled tortellini in a capon broth”) had a rich and delicious sausage-like flavor. When Sam asked what a capon was, our waiter (whose mastery of English and comical expressions made the dinner all the more enjoyable) explained that it was an older chicken whose, *ahem*, balls get cut off so that he grows nice and fat. We all got a good laugh out of his conclusion to the explanation, “It’s a funny story,” he told us. “Well, not for the chicken.” We rounded out our meals by sharing a platter of assorted Italian meats (think prosciutto and mortadella) and cheese (delicious nutty, crumbly Parmesan) and a carafe of fizzy red Lambrusco wine. Most of us were too full for gelato so we decided to save our appetites for Saturday, the day of T & R’s wedding.

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Saturday – The Wedding

Saturday morning began with an impressive breakfast spread – pastries (dare I call them desserts?), bread, meats, fruit, yogurt, assorted juices, and espresso.

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When we were finished, we headed out to bike around the old walls of the city. (Ferrara is known for being a very bike-friendly town, which is why we were originally told we would be biking to dinner in our wedding attire. Though we didn’t end up biking, the bride and groom actually did, wedding dress and all!)

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After exploring the city, enjoying light lunch and gelato downtown, we dressed for the wedding and witnessed the beautiful ceremony (in Bulgarian and English) in one of the Villa’s gardens.

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The party moved on to cocktails and snacks (didn’t take pictures, but they had some delicious and beautiful treats including a mortadella mousse in a pastry crust and some cheese wrapped in prosciutto to look like tortellini) before heading into town for a decadent two and a half hour dinner.

In Italy, dinner begins with antipasti (salads and meat trays) followed by primi piatti, which is almost always pasta. To start, we were each served a full plate of prosciutto and Parmesan, drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. This plate was followed by not one, but two pasta dishes: gnocchi with spinach and bacon and the famous pumpkin-filled pasta with ragu. (I refrained from taking pictures of all of these gorgeous and delicious dishes for the sake of enjoying the evening.)

Our main course was a tender rosemary-seasoned steak with grilled vegetables and potatoes served along side it. Then just when we thought we’d eaten everything they brought out (what seemed like) the restaurant’s whole dessert collection: a pistachio pie, a chocolate cream tart, a hazelnut tart, dollops of whipped cream ladled with rich hot fudge sauce (we never figured out whether this was a dessert by itself or simply condiments for the desserts it accompanied), and an apple pastry. I sampled a small taste of every dessert because, well, that’s how I am and enjoyed all of them except for the pistachio pie. We sipped on limoncello and coffee, trying not to indulge in too much because (just in case we thought we hadn’t eaten enough already) there would be drinks and wedding cake (yes more cake!) back at the villa.

We came back to more cake, grilled nectarines, assorted berries, and more Prosecco on the lighted lawn of the Villa. I felt like I was at some glamorous Italian party the way the Villa was all lit up from the front with glowing outdoor chairs and couches to lounge on.

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I had looked forward to the dancing, but unfortunately it was cut off too soon due to laws concerning noise past midnight. Instead we all stayed up talking and toasting the newly-weds, swearing that we’d never eat again after tonight’s delicious feasting. (Spoiler alert: we did).

One by one we slunk off to our rooms (grateful that they weren’t too far away) to sleep and dream of the fantasy-like day that we’d lived, disbelieving that the celebratory night that we’d all been looking forward to had ended so quickly.

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