Join me! Turin + Salone del Gusto, October 2014

It’s finally here! The itinerary for Morso Soggiorno’s much anticipated trip to Salone del Gusto 2014, the incredible city of Turin, and Le Langhe in Piedmont.

You can click on each image to make the page larger for easy reading.

Hope you can join me.

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Questions? Email me.

Morso Soggiorno’s annotated year in review: 2013

2013. Morso Soggiorno’s inaugural year.

We visited Abruzzo, Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche, Sicily, Basilicata and Puglia. We ate, we drank, we laughed. We strolled, foraged, hiked, shopped, rolled pasta, hunted truffles, pressed olive oil, picked grapes, cooked with a duchess, picked purple potatoes with a farmer in a fog shrouded field, made more cultural faux pas and grammar mistakes than even Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could save us from, and still, we were welcomed warmly, with the love, care and attention usually offered only to family.

The only thing we didn’t conquer was the Italian postal service, who still has all the goodies we shipped home. Hope you’re enjoying them, guys.

Here are a bunch of my impressions, visual and verbal, in no certain order, of the first year living my dream. Intrigued? Hope you can join us next year. Keep an eye out for our 2014 itinerary, including Turin, Sicily and Abruzzo, coming in early January.

Bombed out Baroque palazzi and churches on just about every corner in Palermo, Sicily, each more hauntingly beautiful and staggeringly dramatic than the next.

bombed out baroque in palermo

For the Sunday afternoon passegiata in Scanno, the older women do their best to bring the guidebooks to life by dressing in the traditional style: long full skirts, black sweaters and heads covered in a dark fazzoletti. Then, they scowl at us when we take pictures. Huh?

costume sundays in scannoWe walked around a remote farm in the mountains of Le Marche, cameras in hand, while we waited for the sheep’s milk to heat in a giant copper pot, first to make the pecorino, and then to make the ricotta. Behind the barn, we found doves in cages, bees in hives and baby chicks hiding under a bush with their mother.

dovesAn enchanting day spent with Nicoletta Polo Lanza at Palazzo Butera in Palermo, Sicily. We cooked, learned more than a bit of the history of her husband’s family, and lived for a little while like the royalty of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily.

ducal splendorIn the chill fields beneath the medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, three farmers compared notes. Two Italian, one American, six hands, many seeds and a meeting of the minds over farming grains in harsh conditions. Like Massachusetts. And the mountains of Abruzzo.

Farmers taking crops

Everywhere in Italy, you see them. Great cars. Little cars, big cars, fast cars, slow cars, old cars, new cars. Horns blasting, engines revving, ignoring signals, speed limits, and every parking regulation ever invented. But always doing it with style.

funky fabulous cars

In an old barn in Ofena, Abruzzo, we’re treated to a demonstration of the only “modern” machine available in the region that can separate the lentils from their unwelcome casings. Part winnower, part thresher, very high maintenance but lovingly cosseted, it processes every Slow Food Presidia lentil for miles around.

lentil harvester

Paparazza, Italian style. They start ‘em young. And cute.


The chef of Sapori di Campagna, Ofena, Italy. A woman of many talents, Gabriela taught us to how to make six kinds of pasta, among other regional specialities, then she prepared us a delectable six course dinner. But by far, the best thing Gabriela shared was her 2013 calendar, hanging in a place of honor and inspiration on the back of her kitchen door. Does it feature picturesque photos of the region, you ask? Speciality foods? No. Just beautiful, and scantily clad, Italian soccer stars in all their glory.

pasta maker with calendar The salt flats in Trapani, Sicily. Don Quixote, eat your heart out. Sprinkle on a little salt. We’ve got plenty.

salt flats don quixote style

Whimsical, colorful Opera dei Pupi, the traveling marionette caravans rest in alleys in between performances, a homage to families who travelled from town to town performing, beginning in the 13th century.

sicilian puppet shows

The juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, both in the service of a sustainable life.

sustainability, modern and age old

“Hello,” he said, a disembodied voice originating high above us. “Do you want to buy biscotti? I can come down, it’s just too cold to sit there all day.” Our answer was a resounding si! si!, yes! to the best chocolate biscotti, and incredible mostacciolo cookies, made with grape must and chocolate. My favorite part? Lifesize photos adorning the walls and doorways, all of his late wife, in her youth, dressed in the typical Scannese costume.the biscsotti man in scanno“Take a Dramamine if you get queasy on switchbacks or have a problem with heights,” I warned my intrepid traveling companions. The drive from Sulmona to Scanno is fraught with both, but the vistas are worth the effort. Like hanging on the edge of Heaven.

the road to scanno When I was 12, my parents took us to Spain. There, we watched a donkey walk in a circle, his movement turning a giant stone wheel that crushed olives for olive oil. It was a sensory delight, but the smell was what I most vividly remember. Fresh cut hay, green grass, both deep, rich, and verdant. Modernization makes the process simpler, but I was transported to another time and place as the vivid green, freshly pressed oil poured from the press in Marsala, Sicily.

there is nothing like virgin olive oil

The men in Italy. Need I say more? When they meet, they kiss each other on the cheeks. Twice. They carry babies, push strollers, walk slowly with aging nonnas, and have been known to make an appreciative comment to a random woman passing by.  At this, the feminist in me shrugs her shoulders. Italian men are demonstrative, and they demonstrate their love for their families, and the fairer sex loudly and often.

three generations

These two women gave us a simple lesson in trickle down economics and caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. We bought garlic, the lady on the left “neglected” to make us our change as she deposited our coins into a well worn leather coin purse. Later, we saw her take the same coins and trade them at another vendor for grapes, and cheese. And so it goes.

trickle down economics Pasta alla guitarra in a simple sauce of wild spinach foraged from the mountainside behind Il Vecchio Ristoro in Rocca Pia. Sweet, tender, deeply hued matte velvet green leaves, almost triangular in shape, have a slight mineral, earthy taste.

wild spinach pasta

Thinking Ahead! Salone del Gusto 2014

Some people wait all year for the announcement of their favorite band’s tour dates, or the first game of the season of their beloved sports team, or the latest fashions from Europe’s runways, or simply Christmas or a special birthday.

Me? My special date comes once every two years, and the building excitement and anticipation exceeds all of the above rolled into one. I wait for Slow Food to announce the dates of the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre food show in Turin, Italy. Once they’re public, I burst into action.

The whimsical logo of Salone del Gusto 2012I scramble to get my press pass. I book a hotel that’s convenient to the show, but within walking distance of the beautiful, historic, architecturally and culturally vibrant city center of Turin. Continue reading

Il Giardino degli Ulivi.

We approach our destination as a lone figure walks with a dog along a winding road lined with olive, fig and oak trees and flanked by rolling fields. Louise slows, rolls down the window, and waits. Not expecting to see an unfamiliar car on the remote hilltop, the woman peers inside tentatively, quizzically. Louise smiles her broad, generous smile. In an instant, Maria Pia Cioccoloni, owner and chef of Il Giardino degli Ulivi, nearly screams in recognition, “I didn’t know it was you without the bikes on top of your car.” Four hands clasp tightly through the open window, fingers and palms a sure substitute for a future fuller, warmer embrace. “Go, go,” Pia finally says, reluctant for separation, however short. “I’ll meet you on the terrace.”

The winding dirt road leading to Il Giardino degli UliviPiaandLouiseMy intrepid travel companion Louise and I are on at trek through the foothills of the Sibillini Mountains into the heart of Le Marche, a quiet area of coastal/central Italy nestled between regional superstars Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. We’re off to visit Il Giardino degli Ulivi, an agriturismo Louise and her husband had stumbled upon on a biking trip several years earlier and returned to countless times since. Continue reading

A Wine Shaped by the Wind.

This week’s guest post is by my handsome husband (and wine lover) Jonathan Plazonja.

It seems only fitting that days before the East Coast is ravaged by what Italian newscasters are calling a “sandy hurricane,” Mother Nature reveals her kinder side at Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto in Turin. I am at a vertical tasting of Poggio Al Vento Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino. Poggio Al Vento translates as “the windy hillock” because the vineyard benefits from dry Mediterranean breezes even in the hot Summer months. The fabled offspring of this perfect microclimate? One of the most mythical of all Brunellos.

The tasting is led by Edoardo Virano, president of this legendary estate, a man who is very experienced in the care and growing of the Sangiovese grapes which by Italian law must comprise 100% of any Brunello di Montalcino. This afternoon, we taste the 1990, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001 vintages from magnum bottles, which he claims offer the ideal proportions for aging, and which “celebrate the Sangiovese grapes in all their majesty and beauty.” My taste buds quickly concur.

Poggio Al Vento lineup


Continue reading

Getting Ruined in Pompei.

No, I didn’t forget the additional ‘i’ in Pompei. Only the ancient city of Pompeii sports the double ‘i’. Although, given my first impression of today’s Pompei, it’s easy to confuse the two. Pompei is not modern. Not modern as in industrial chic. Perhaps post-modern, as in a city in visible socioeconomic decline. ‘I’ kid you not.

Modern Pompei is a suburb of Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It could use a little buff-up. Naples, for all its notoriety, is a major cultural center, known for its treasures, two millenia worth of power and influence, and, unfortunately, the Camorra. Pompei, on the other hand, is known for a disaster that happened over 2,000 years ago. From the looks of things, they’re still waiting for the Italian version of FEMA to show up. Continue reading

Days 7 and 8: Fossacesia + Sfincione

I would rather be immersed in boiling oil (extra virgin, of course) than rent a car in Italy. Unfortunately, my itinerary is so far-flung in central and southern Italy that a car is a necessity. And that doesn’t even count my guest appearance at Justin and Jessica’s wedding in Puglia.

Jonathan, my car freak husband, carefully arranges the rental of a VW Golf with GPS for pick up on October 13 at the airport in Pescara. Fearing that the GPS wouldn’t materialize, he has it pre-shipped to us in Brookline, a wonderful option, we think, and I carry it over.

Here’s what I get in Pescara:  A Lancia Muso (essentially a minivan) in which the charger for my GPS does not fit, that, according to the agent, Stefania, was reserved for October 15, which is two days from now.

Stefania, by the way, is all of five feet tall and 90 pounds. Dressed in a camouflage-colored uniform that could pass for combat fatiques, she has the attitude of an army sergeant. She is just returning from a 2½-hour lunch break, and is besieged by a phalanx of angry car renters even before she unlocks her kiosk. Given my present circumstances, it is not difficult to understand their frustration. One side-ways glance through squinted eyes from Stefania quiets us all into a semblance of order.

I overhear the story of one poor American woman, who has accidentally knocked off her driver’s side mirror navigating the narrow streets. She is instructed to find her own replacement car at one of the sister car agencies, or she can just continue driving the damaged car and take her chances at being stopped by the Carabinieri. Suddenly, my administrative difficulties seem inconsequential in comparison.

One hour and several hundred Euros later, I am off. I now have an English-speaking travel companion, my new British friend, Kate, the voice that comes preloaded in my TomTom.

For the price of the TomTom rental, I should have Kate Winslet riding shotgun. Or Cate Blanchett. Or Kate Moss. Or, for that matter, Duchess Kate. Better yet, why not all of them? It would be a great time and we could split the cost.

Forget Thelma and Louise. How about Linda and the Kates? Or is it that I just want to drive this d$%# car off a cliff?

I travel south along the seaside from Pescara through the town of Ortona keeping an eye out for the trabocchi, giant fishing rigs that extend far out into the startlingly turquoise water. From a distance, spindly and lean, they appear like enormous daddy-long-leg spiders perched atop the barely rippling waves.

Trabocchi are something of a tourist attraction now, often fashioned into restaurants, bars or small lodgings. Some are still worked in the old style, their nets cast into the sea, scooping up thousands of small silvery fish. The spoils are used to make a fabulous fish stew called Brodetto di Pesce alla Vastese.

I am on my way to village of Fossacesia, where my friends Laura and Mario live. Laura and Mario are two of the amazing people who shared my enthusiasm for my epic Italian pilgrimage, and were introduced to me by my neighbor, Kristen. The itinerary for this trip materialized largely on the goodwill of my friends, their friends, and strangers who have now become friends.

Laura has reserved a small but welcoming agriturismo, the Casale di San Giovanni, for my stay. She accompanies me as I check in, introducing me to the owner, Nicoletta. I am incredibly late, due to Stefania’s lunch break, tired, and a little confused.

Nicoletta walks me to my room and asks in Italian, ‘At what time would you like breakfast?’ Not missing a beat, I respond, ‘I don’t eat a lot for breakfast, thank you, but I would love coffee at 7 am.’

Nicoletta’s eyes grow large, and, too late, I recognize my mistake. I have forgotten myself. I am not on a business trip in a big city, I am in a small village, in a small agriturismo, run by a family. And tomorrow is Sunday. The only day of rest in Italy. At once, despite my best efforts, I feel culturally incompetent.

Laura rescues me (as she often will over the next few days), saying ‘I think she’ll be ready around 8 am. She’s tired, she’s going to sleep in. Va bene, Linda?’ Is that okay, Linda?

Si, si, grazie,’ I say, relieved. By the time I arrive the next morning, a lovely plate of sweets and a hot, strong cup of caffe lungo await me. I have learned during this trip that everything is brighter, more welcoming, more pleasant in the light of day.

Mario and Laura host me for some incredible meals and local sight-seeing. Fossacesia will be my base for the next few days as I travel inland to meet with various local artisans.

Today, we take a walking tour of Lanciano, a village that has had multiple lives. Originally a Roman town, like many other places in Italy, as the years progressed, older environs were built upon, creating layers of civilizations.

Laura is an amazing cook. On our first night together, she prepared sfogliata di melanzane, crispy slices of eggplant layered with her own chickpea puree and topped with marinated red peppers and fresh basil.

The main course was gnocchi alla Romana, sliced rounds of polenta, set in a circular pattern in a baking dish and layered with butter and cheese, like a gratin. It is crunchy and has a nutty, rich flavor and luscious creamy texture. I have two servings. I am not shy about eating great food, although concern for the already stressed seams of my jeans makes me feel a little guilty. But just a little.

My favorite dish by far is a sweet and sour butternut squash Laura makes for our dinner on Sunday. Thin slices of orange-fleshed squash are lightly fried, patted dry, and layered with a mixture of minced garlic, mint, and breadcrumbs. A couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar are sprinkled on top, and the entire dish is left to sit for several hours for the flavors to cure. How can something so simple be so satisfying?

For our lunch, Mario makes sfincione, a stuffed Sicilian pizza. The bottom crust is layered with melted, gooey, cacciocavalo cheese. This is topped with another piece of dough, then layered with salty, flavorful chopped anchovies, tangy tomato sauce, fresh oregano, sweet onion, parmigiano and blessed with a little extra virgin olive oil. Breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top to absorb any flavor that might have the nerve to consider dripping off the side.

Too good for words, and lucky me, I get to take a slice for my lunch on the road to Termoli tomorrow.

Lucky you, all of the recipes will be shared once I get home an have a chance to convert them to American measurements. Stay tuned.

Ciao for now.

Note: Bear with me, Morso fans. The blog entries are chronologically out of order, as I have been without WiFi more often than I intended.

Even more importantly, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generous, intimate, sharing spirits of the people I’ve visited. I want to take the time to present their stories to you in the same spirit in which they were offered to me.

Not to worry, though, I’ll include every detail in blogs in the upcoming weeks.

Day Three: The Orto at Sapori di Campagna.

Is there a garden anywhere worth the trouble of a 7 am wake-up call? Before today, even an invitation to rendezvous at 7 am in the Garden of Eden would’ve gotten a big fat, no thanks, Adam, from me. Too many snakes, don’t like apples.

But today? Today the answer is yes.

If I had any doubt this whole Agriturismo thing, for all its romantic illusion of a simple return to a simpler time, is really incredibly hard work, it is put to rest when Louise drops me off at the Sapori for a farm tour.

Before the car door slams shut behind me, I feel like a sloth. By the time I arrive, the entire family is hard at work, checking guests out, cooking, cleaning. The same family I left last night at 10 pm, when they were clearing the dinner dishes from my table, the dining room still full, is back at it a scant few hours later.

After a boisterous ‘salve‘ and the welcome offer an espresso macchiato and a light-as-a-cloud slice of ricotta lemon cake, Livia introduces me to her father, the farmer of the operation. He and I pile into his car, and immediately go off-road into one of the many fields that create the velvety, tapestry-like landscape of Abruzzo. The car smells curiously of sheep’s milk cheese, a not unwelcome aroma to me.

‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I forgot to drop off the cheese.’ I turn around, and sure enough, a dozen wheels of sheep’s milk pecorino, the Cannestrato del Castel del Monte, are tucked into the trunk. He smiles sheepishly. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

He’s all business. I don’t even learn his name. He’s very serious about his farm, and perhaps a little put out that he’s taking up valuable time showing me around. He reminds me that it’s late in the season, the fields are almost farmed out. Not much left to see. Don’t expect too much.

As we move deeper into the countryside, across wide, grassy expanses of early Fall fields, we talk about the Slow Food Movement, about the Presidi of his region. He is able to rattle them off in short order, and I learn he will represent the region at the Salone Del Gusto in Turin later this month, something he has done for the past several years. Hmmm. A farmer with the soul of an advocate and activist. Things are getting interesting.

The frostiness in the air abates. We’re finding common ground. He’s speaking slower, I’m understanding more. The fluency of food talk is again working it’s magic.

More than three hours later, after touring field after field, crop after crop, stables, animal pens, olive groves, fruit and nut trees, I am in awe. I am going to take a page from the Farmer’s book and set expectations. The pictures will not do this enterprise the justice it deserves. But I can try, and try, I will.

What you will see is evidence of the fall growing season. At this time of year, the Farmer and one helper work the land themselves. During high season, the season of tomatoes, zucchini, celery, lettuces, peppers, peas (I could go on and on) he hires up to five helpers.

In addition to what he cultivates, he is quick to forage for wild herbs and vegetables, including wild asparagus, thyme, mint, lettuces, persimmon, wild fennel, mushrooms, quince. Nothing will go to waste.

Enjoy. And think about your own garden. If you like to get dirty, this post’s for you. And my friend, the Farmer? His name is Signore Costantini, and I am in his debt.

Remember, you can click on any image to begin a slide-show tour.

Day 1, Rome.

I have just come into my room after eating a salad and wolfing down a plate of rigatoni arrabiata like a barbarian, taken off my boots for the first time in 24 hours, peeled off my socks, cried over my pruney feet, and plugged in my DEAD (for the first time in history) cell phone.

I am so tired that this will be brief. My room is very nice, but a cavern would be nice after the last 24 hours of travel. In keeping with my plan to experience part of this trip as my ‘Junior Year Abroad,’ I forced myself to take public transportation to the B&B from the airport. Not as easy as it sounds. It had its ups and downs.

The ups? On the train from Fiumicino to Rome Termini, I shared my little quartet of seats with two young Japanese guys. They spent the whole time practicing Italian words. You can’t imagine how many different ways there are to pronounce “Noodle.” And I was the hit of the train when my Tumi bag rolled down the aisle the entire length of the car all on its own.

When I needed help, which was often, most people were gracious. The two glaring exceptions? A miserable Guardia Civil guy and an old man on the street. After hearing my query, he just put up his hand, shook his head, and kept walking. He probably thought I was a lunatic. I have renamed the trip ‘A Senior Moment Abroad,’ or better yet, ‘A Broad having a Senior Moment.’ I can barely speak English, let alone use the months of Italian tutoring my friend Carlotta afforded me.

The downs? I tried to use my cell phone Google map app to get from the bus stop to my room. It should have been a walk of less than a 1/4 mile. Instead, 30 minutes later, I had effectively scaled Mount Everest tugging my 500 lb. rolling Tumi behind me and I was lost. A call to the landlady confirmed that the B&B is at the base of the hill. Damn you, Google Maps. And damn all my preaching that hot yoga can serve as adequate cardio. It can’t.

There are reasons that youth is a good time for bohemian travel adventures. Scaling Rome’s seven hills, including the one that led to my B&B, is on the top of that list.

Turns out my B&B hostess, Laura, was an au pair in England in the late 60′s, a stewardess for Alitalia in the 70′s, and an official Rome Tour Guide in the 80′s and beyond. She’s obviously scaled a few mountains herself. I breathe a sign of relief. I am in good hands.

Laura shows me my room (thank God there are no stairs), and informs me that breakfast is between 7 and 10 am. By the looks of things (me) she tells me that she’ll be happy to hold it until I wake up.

Still unaware that I have turned the human-to-zombie corner, I ask about directions to the catacombs and she looks at me with a jaundiced eye.

“I think we should discuss it tomorrow in the morning over breakfast,” she says. Which turns out to be a great idea.

As I fall asleep, my feet ache, the pillow doesn’t smell of home, and an accordion is playing O Sole Mio in the street. But the Basilica of St. Peter is illuminated outside my window. I smile. I’m here. It’s all worth it. Rome, is after all, Rome.