Sunday, July 31, 2011


It's beginning to be harvest time in Cervinara and the fruits of everyone's labors are seen all over town. While we don't have much of a garden, just some herbs and flowers, we are the recipients of the largesse of lots of friends and neighbors. Bertuccio is the first to come knocking on our door; cherries in May, squash and green beans in June, tomatoes, potatoes and garlic in July. Last week he came in with a huge basket of potatoes that he had just dug up and they were wonderful....odd shapes and sizes, but sweet and buttery when cooked up. Cousin Antonietta has been a source of many wonderful treats, from zucchini blossoms to San Marzano tomatoes, cucumbers and plums. Our neighbor Bianchina sent over a huge bag of eggplant along with a lovely head of lettuce. I feel bad for our fruttivendolo, because no one is stopping by his truck on his travels through town.
Adriana, our barista, is a great one for providing us with special treats. She gave us some hot pepper plants that will be giving some added spice to our dishes, she often has some taralli that she offers us for breakfast or some fresh homemade bread that we will eat with some tomatoes fresh off the vine. I don't know what we would do without Adriana, because she also gets us eggs right out of the chickens and many other helpful items.
As I mentioned before, we don't really have a garden and, even if we did there is no way we could match the great tasting fruits and vegetables of these old time farmers. But of course, we reciprocate in any way that we can, usually by providing folks with some of the great mozzarella that we bring back with us from Aversa. Aversa and the whole region around Naples is known for its buffalo mozzarella, but the buffalo milk doesn't make its way up to the mountains, so for the Cervinarese, mozzarella is a rare treat. So, every time we are down visiting family, we are sure to bring back an extra kilo of this milky goodness to divide among our friends and neighbors. It's always received with great pleasure. Lately I have also begun doing some baking and the biscotti and ciambelle that have been coming from my oven are also well received. I've pretty much perfected my walnut biscotti, different from the ones that I make in the States. These are very simple with no butter or oil at all. The only liquid comes from the eggs used to moisten the dough. They are so good dunked in our morning cappuccinos or a little after dinner glass of vin santo.
While the people of Cervinara tend to be very jealous of their land, protecting every square meter of what little plots they have, they are very willing to show off their agricultural skills by sharing whatever comes from those little bits of land that they hold so dear.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Mike and I have never been barflies and have never had a corner bar where "Everyone knows your name"....that is until now. Now, we have La Rinascita right down the street and, even if everyone doesn't know our name, everyone knows we are the "americani", and that we go down every morning for our cappuccino and to read the daily paper.
Adriana is the barista, and she gets there about 6 am every morning to open the bar and heat up the espresso machine. She stays until around 11 when her son Mateo comes to relieve her. They are open until around 12:30, then close for lunch, and reopen from 4 pm until 11 pm. Every day, Adriana is there, providing us with some fun conversation, pouring beers for the card players and putting up with their teasing.
Besides the regular daily visits for coffee, beer or a quick shot of brandy from the adults, the children in the neighborhood drop by at all hours to pick up an ice cream or a bag of chips or, their favorite, nutella with dipping sticks. Yum!
In the evening there is a gang that gathers to play cards. They play all sorts of games, from Scala a Quaranta to Scopa to TreSette. One thing is consistent: the yelling that goes along with every hand. If one were to take the yelling seriously, the police would be called at least once a night! But they accuse each other of cheating, curse the gods for their bad luck and then buy a round of beers for the table. It's all just part of the routine.
When a special occasion happens, a marriage, birthday or saint's day, the honoree usually provides some special treats for the evening gatherers. Last night, the son of one of the fellows got married, so there were cookies and pastries galore. When her granddaughter made her first communion, Adriana pulled out the grill and cooked up sausages and chops for the whole crowd. She also had a variety of peppers, eggplant, cheeses and salamis there to be sampled. Needless to say, everything was delicious.
It's so nice on evenings like that, sitting around this dinky little terrace, with a couple of wobbly plastic tables and lousy plastic forks, digging in to the local treats with gusto. We make all sorts of noise and no one complains, at least to us! As darkness settles in and the children get called to bed, the crowd disperses and everyone heads home to relax and enjoy an evening of TV, reading or just visiting quietly with neighbors, knowing that tomorrow La Rinascita will reawaken and provide our little corner of town with refreshments and entertainment. We finally have a place "where everybody knows our name"!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ponza and the Pontine Islands

July 14 was our 38 anniversary, and we were lucky enough to be able to spend it with our dear friends Nicola and Rosanna on the island of Ponza. Ponza is the largest island in the Pontine archipelago and it is a mostly undiscovered area, at least to Americans.
Everyone knows about Capri. It is the "go to" spot off the coast of Naples. We have been there five or six times, the last time just this spring, and it is always lovely. The trouble is that it is so crowded, it is impossible to appreciate its beauty. Ponza and the other islands in the archipelago is a perfect place to spend some time just because that is not the case. Here we were, in the middle of July, peak beach season, and there were lots of seats on the Aliscafo that took us over to the island, there were seats available at every cafe and restaurant, there was room for leisurely strolls through the narrow streets, and the beaches and coves were not covered wall to wall with umbrellas and sun bathers. This was what Capri was like 50 years ago. Ponza is now my island of choice!
There are cute little cars to rent for very reasonable prices and with which you can drive all around the island, and down to the little coves for swimming and snorkeling. We rented a little yellow Panda that was quite the adventure to drive! Our good friend Nicola was our chauffeur and he was a little put off at the soft breaks and the lack of a working horn, but once we got on the road we realized no one was driving over 15 miles an hour and it was a great adventure.
We drove down one narrow lane after another, going to different spots for swimming and sunbathing, and just to enjoy the beautiful views. The pastel houses reflected the warm sunshine, the water pooled quietly in some spots and roared powerfully against the rocks in others. An occasional sailboat dotted the horizon, and fishermen hauled up their catches in colorful dories.
There is much more than the island of Ponza to explore, including the populated island of Ventotene and the unpopulated Palmarola. Palmarola has some of the clearest and most beautiful water and swimming coves imaginable. Our next time there, we will take more time to visit the smaller islands, as well as to get to know Ponza better. It's only 1 1/2 hours from the port of Formia to Ponza on the Aliscafo, twice as long on the traghetto if you are taking your car across. If you are considering an island vacation, consider Ponza or Ventotene. Unless your idea of fun is stifling, crowded streets and buses with cranky, sweaty tourists on every corner, you will be very happy there!