My Mother’s Homeland – Molise, Italy

I love to introduce people to the pristine beauty of my mother’s native region of Molise in central south Italy. The inclusiveness and sense of culture and tradition of this special place is so dear to my heart. Those who have traveled here with me always return home knowing they are part of an extended Italian family.

We stay at a historic country B&B in my mother’s village of Sepino, still filled with extended relatives and friends. The history of this remarkable place begins at the intersection of two roads of age-old significance: the tratturo (a tratturo is a cowpath or sheepway) that links the Abruzzo and Apulia regions. For millennia the shepherds transformed these dry roads into rivers of undulating wool as they moved their flocks across the pastures. Their livelihood depended on meeting at this junction to trade with local farmers. Here, through commerce and conversation, a community set down its first fragile roots.

Over the course of our stay, we engage in conversations with the locals that lead us back through the centuries, discussing food, rituals, stories, legends, and art. We browse the markets to learn how to pick and blend local ingredients to reproduce the flavor of Italian regional specialties and create meals that satisfy palate and soul. We drink the strong cherry-scented local wine and quench our thirst with the pure mineral waters that spring out of Le Tre Fontane.

We venture to explore Saepinum (the ancient settlement for which Sepino is justly famous), a rarity. It is an ancient Roman town that is preserved rather than embalmed, seldom but easily visited, alive with a handful of families whose forebears have worked this land since the beginning of time. They continue to tend fields bordered by ancient walls, raise their sheep, and inhabit houses that incorporate ancient stones, at times even older than Roman. Saepinum, among the country’s most evocative, unspoiled sites, was no Rome. It was a provincial city, modest in both scale and scope. Never grand, always accessible, Saepinum is the kind of place where it’s easy to add a few imaginary bricks to broken walls, fill the air with clapping hoofs and creaking carts, and believe – even if just for a moment – that you can go backward to the city’s glorious past.

This autumn, I will return to Molise once again to lead a women’s tour in partnership with World Beyond Tours to explore and experience this truly unique Italian region. I can’t wait to stand shoulder to shoulder with the village women, my friends, on Sunday evening cooking Italian specialties to share, and to guide others to explore some of my favorite places.

Genova, Italy – My Adopted City

Porto Antico con gru

By Nelly Capra, owner of Antica Sciamadda

Liguria has the shape of a half-moon facing the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France to the West, Tuscany to the East, and Piemonte to the North. Its coastline is lined with palm and lemon trees, castles covered in bougainvillea, and a variety of fishing villages. Vineyards and olive groves cover the steep, terraced hills that rise up from the coast, a breathtaking view. For over seven centuries Genova has been the capital of the Republic of Genova, known also as Superba. The city’s symbol is a tall lighthouse ‘la Lanterna”, her port one of the most important on the Mediterranean as well as the largest.

I spent most of my life in Genova, but the first air I breathed wasn’t the salty Genovese air and I don’t have a single Genovese gene in me. Yet, I owe my professional identity as a chef to one of the most traditional Genovese foods and businesses. When I was 23 years old, I took up ownership of two Torte and Farinata stores that would have most likely been closed. Genovese people patiently wait for this thin, crispy, golden garbanzo bean flour “pancake” to emerge from the wood-burning oven so that they can savor its taste of history and tradition. It is their favorite comfort food, much more popular than pizza. It has been around for centuries, some say it dates back to the Romans who used to carry along the flour and cook it over their campfires. I had many illustrious customers, the Italian President Cossiga among them. My store“Antica Sciamadda” (Ancient Flames – it was 200 years old when I bought it) was recognized by tourist guides and publications as the place where the best farinata in town was served.

The Ligurian region and Genova, and their typical tasty foods, are not well known to Americans. Except of course for the Cinqueterre, and pesto and focaccia. But there is much beyond these to be desired and explored. Genova is a city that needs to be discovered gradually. Her historical center is one of the largest in Europe. It’s easy to get lost in the web of narrow alleyways and tiny squares lined with stores, markets, ancient churches, palaces, coffee shops, and friggitorie (which perfume the air with the aroma of fried cod and fritters). If you follow the glittering light of the sea, you will find yourself at the port. There you can board a ferryboat and travel to the picturesque fishing villages that dot the coast, or travel to the islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily. If you prefer to travel by land, you can hop onto the “Funicolare del Righi” and 10 minutes later find yourself on top of the steep hill from which you can admire a breathtaking view of the city and coast.

Because I am so passionate about my adopted city and region, I enjoy leading tours here. I want people to get to know the beauty of Genova and experience her many unique treasures. To explore the city, discover Rembrandt and Veronese in the most unlikely places, learn how to use the right amount of marjoram in frittatas and ravioli, and select the perfect basil to make the most flavorful pesto. I take my guests on a hunt to find the best bakeries so we can enjoy focaccia hot from the oven and take in the aromatic panettone.

This autumn, I will be returning to my favorite city, partnering with World Beyond Tours to lead a couple’s trip to share the best of Liguria and Piemonte with those who want to experience authentic Italian culture, tradition, food and wine. I can’t wait!

April – time for summer travel planning

Summer 2011 Cooking Tours
Central/Southern Italy:  Molise, August 13-20
A week-long tour of Nelly’s maternal family’s village, Sepino. We will explore this ancient  Roman village -with its still intact ruins- its genuine and tasty cuisine and enjoy the generosity of its people. We will be immersed in the Italian way of celebrating life.

The ruins of Altilia

“Traveling in Italy with Nelly was amazing & wonderful. We experienced the Italian life as insiders. I treasure my memories of that trip!” – Judy M.

Northern Italy: Piemonte/Liguria, September 3-10


An 8-day Italian adventure that departs from the well-traveled tourist track to spend a week in the charming, unspoiled region of Italy’s northwest. Venture from the base of the Alps to the rolling vineyards of Piemonte to the shores of the Italian Riviera. Soak up sites, history and culture; indulge in countless culinary delights; and authentically experience and connect with the locals while sharing in meaningful experiences with fellow travelers.

“I have been to Italy several times. But, only with Nelly did I feel welcomed into Italy. The real cuisine, the history behind the history, being inside the beauty of all of it, experiencing its passion, rather than being an observer looking in on an exotic world.” -Julia D.

la torre di Mombaruzzo

Adventure into the Italian Art of Living 2010

Nelly Capra invites you to participate in one-of-a-kind culinary tour in Piemonte Wine Country
September 16 – 22, 2010
Followed by a three-day visit to Genova, Cinqueterre, the Ligurian coast
September 22 – 24, 2010

DOWNLOAD TOUR BROCHURE .PDF
Early-bird pricing through June 30. Save $250!

When I was in  Piemonte a little over a month ago,  I “paved the way” for the upcoming culinary tour of Mombaruzzo and surrounding areas starting this September 16. I involved the whole village, including my friends Mariangela and Pinuccia (who will contribute with the architectural/geological/spiritual part), the mayor (who will arrange a special guided tour of the medieval village), a renowned amaretti factory (they will host a tasting of their specialties and show us how they make them), to say nothing of the tastings/tours at the local wineries and the beautiful grappa distillery Berta, and a couple of friends who are outstanding cooks. The excitement is palpable.

Heating and freezing meals

Meals that I prepare for my Slow Meal subscribers can easily be saved for up to 48 hrs in the refrigerator or even frozen if necessary. Here’s a glance at a list of suggestions on how to heat or freeze meals.
Lasagna and other pasta and rice dishes
Reheat in oven for 15 minutes at 325F, covered with aluminum foil (or in a water bath on the stove top with lid on for about 20 minutes). To freeze, cover tightly with plastic wrap and/or lid (to avoid freeze burn) and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat in oven.
Soups
On stove top or microwave (in microwave safe container). Freeze in freezer-safe container for up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat on stove top or microwave, and remember to stir.
Focaccias and Tortas
Reheat in oven for 15 minutes at 325F. To freeze, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat in oven.
Meat/fish/chicken entrees
Normally slightly undercooked and can be reheated (without drying out) in oven for 15 minutes at 325F, covered by aluminum foil. Stews can be reheated on stove top or microwave too. Freeze in freezer-safe container for up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat in oven for 15 minutes at 325F, covered by aluminum foil.
Vegetable sides
Reheat in oven for 15 minutes at 325F, covered with aluminum foil. Some vegetables can be reheated in microwave. Freeze in freezer-safe container for up to 1 month. Thaw and reheat on stove top or microwave.
Non-freezable items
Polenta, some potato dishes (Note: potato gnocchi and roast potatoes can be frozen), some custards, salads. Crisp vegetables will change texture when frozen and thawed.

Holiday Parties & Presents

Holiday Parties & Presents

Book your Holiday party: A wide variety of event formats is available, ranging from Slow Dinner or à la carte buffet party to (Learn how to make) Ravioli party, from Appetizers, to Dessert party.

New Year’s Timpano party: Welcome 2010 while dining with Timpano – the traditional Sicilian dish (a crispy rice crust filled with bucatini, tiny meatballs, mozzarella, marinara sauce, etc. and a green heart of peas, in the shape of a drum) made famous by the Big Night movie.

Consider giving sweet Italian things for the holidays: Place your order now for Mandorletti, the delicious soft almond cookie or the typical Panettone Genovese perfumed with orange blossom water and fennel seeds.

Gift certificates for Slow Meals subscriptions are available in several denominations. They make a perfectly thoughtful (unwrapped) present.

Lemon birthday cake

The aroma of the lemon cake I just finished baking is still lingering… tomorrow July 23 is Julia’s birthday and I wish we could be already all together celebrating her.
So I thought I’d share with you the recipe of this wonderful, versatile and easy cake and if you want you can bake your own and, in a way, be part of the celebration.

PANE DOLCE AL LIMONE con MACEDONIA CALDA
(Lemon torta with warm fruit salad)

– 1 1/2 cup flour
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 cup milk
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil
– 3 tsp lemon peel, grated

In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a smaller bowl, beat eggs with milk, oil and lemon peel.

Add liquid mixture to flour, mix until just blended. Pour in buttered and floured 5” x 9” pan and bake at 350 F for 40 minutes.

L e m o n g l a z e

Mix together 1/3 cup sugar and 5 tbsp of lemon juice until dissolved. When cake is ready, poke a number of holes into it with a wooden skewer. Drizzle the glaze over it and let it soak in. Let it rest for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool.

WARM FRUIT SALAD

– 1 lb mixed fresh fruit, such as pears, bananas, kiwi, mango, grapes
– 3 tbsp butter
– 3 tbsp sugar
– 1/4 cup orange liqueur or Rhum (optional)
– 1/4 cup orange juice

Cut fruit in pieces. In a wide frying pan melt butter and sauté fruit in it over high heat, sprinkle with sugar, then pour orange liqueur and orange juice over it . Let cook for a minute, and serve immediately with a slice of lemon torta and, if desired, a scoop of vanilla icecream.


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