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Thou Shalt Eat Fish

l"Immacolata wants you to eat fish on Christmas Eve.

L’Immacolata wants you to eat fish on Christmas Eve.

It’s unusually cold in coastal California—a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit in our little valley with frost blanketing the landscape at night. The horses wintering over in our pasture have grown sturdy winter coats, their collective breath rising like steam from a boiling pot. We’re bundled up and filled with joy as we prepare to spend the first Christmas in with our family since we moved to Italy. Read more

Pugliafornia

November means it's time to harvest olives in Puglia, a job we welcomed with open arms after the disastrous 2014 harvest.

November means it’s time to harvest olives in Puglia, a job we welcomed with open arms this year after the disastrous 2014 harvest.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a l-o-n-g dry spell between posts, so I won’t offer any excuses (disabled computer, lack of good Wi-Fi, sudden finger paralysis . . . anything else?). No, it seems my utter failure to organize my thoughts isn’t particularly dramatic, but it is something of a metaphor for our lives lately. Let me elaborate. Read more

Where We Come From, Where We’re Going

Good food and good friends . . . essential elements that connect us to place.

Good food and good friends . . . essential elements that connect us to place.

If you follow nuovastoria, you already know that there has been a long, dry spell between posts. There isn’t a compelling reason that kept me away from the keyboard like, for example, sudden paralysis or irreversible computer failure. But there have been big changes afoot—changes that started small and became too big to ignore. Making sense of them has taken some time. Read more

Eat Your Greens

Olives infested with olive fly still on the tree during the last snowstorm here (Photo credit: Amanda Roelle).

Olives infested with olive fly still on the tree during the December 31, 2014 snowstorm here (Photo credit: Amanda Roelle).

The temperature here is dropping as I write. Snow flurries and high winds blew in last night, but today’s snowfall is almost an afterthought, with patches of brilliant blue sky behind ominous clouds. Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but we welcome the chill if it will lay waste to the olive fly larvae that burrow in the soil of our olive grove. There’s little else to do but stay inside and cook while entertaining visions of insect death and destruction, hoping the incongruity of these two activities doesn’t indicate something troubling about my state of mind. Read more

Candelora

Candles in Taranto's Cathedral of San Cataldo

Candles in Taranto’s Cathedral of San Cataldo

Italy’s answer to the United States’ Groundhog Day came and went yesterday, confirming that we can expect another six weeks of winter here. This isn’t altogether bad news. We’re hoping for a proper freeze, enough to exterminate any dormant olive fly larvae wintering over in the soil of local olive groves. Nothing too extreme, though, since extreme cold at the wrong time (like early spring) represents another kind of trouble for olive farmers. So we’re hunkering down, but consoling ourselves with long walks, recipes that involve a long stove-top simmer and the occasional crunch of chiacchiere, those crackling, light-as-a-feather Italian carnevale sweets that are impossible to stop eating. Read more

The Worst Year Ever

We harvested the few olives that were on our trees early  this year, escaping olive fly infestation. Unfortunately, we just didn't produce enough this year.

We harvested the few olives that were on our trees early this year, escaping olive fly infestation. Unfortunately, we just didn’t produce enough.

Maybe you’ve been following the Italian and Spanish olive harvest news this year. If so, it won’t come as a surprise that 2014 will be remembered as one of the worst years in history for premium olive oil. For a variety of reasons, olive oil production is down by as much as 40% overall in Italy this year. And for premium extra virgin and organic olive oils, the situation is even worse. Read more

Benessere

Deep-fried yeasty dough balls called pettole are as Christmas-y as it gets in Puglia.

Deep-fried yeasty dough balls called pettole mean Christmas in Puglia.

After the eating endurance event known as a southern Italian holiday season, we’re tightening our belts. Or at least we’re making an effort in hopes of tightening them. Pasta al forno, that decadent layered masterpiece of the Christmas table here, has been banished from ours. Likewise the zampone, a pig’s trotter stuffed with, yes, more pork, is off the list. And the pettole? Those deep-fried puffs of yeasty dough immersed in vanilla-scented sugar are now just a guilt-tinged memory. But if you think we’re resigned to insipid plates of sad, boiled vegetables, you are dead wrong. We’ve embraced a world of flavor with the bounty of Puglia’s winter vegetable, fruit, grain, nut, seed and legume harvest. And Puglia’s seafood and farm players still figure in the equation, playing a supporting role to great effect. Read more

The Kids are All Right

The first snow of 2014 dances around us as we welcome 2015.

The first snow of 2014 dances around us as we prepare to welcome 2015.

2014 is drawing to a close. In Puglia, snow flurries blanket the cone-shaped roofs of this region’s iconic stone houses. The air is brisk as the sun sinks low in the sky, limestone-paved alleyways glow with the reflected light of wrought-iron streetlights and residents settle in for winter as they have always done. But there is disquiet here, a growing sense that so much of Italy’s infrastructure, the modus operandi that touches all aspects of life, is profoundly troubled. From the morning caffè chat in the local bar to the increasingly gloomy headlines in evening news, there is collective acknowledgement that years of “crisi,” the pervasive economic stagnation that is crippling Italy’s younger generation, is here to stay. But amidst the endless stories of despair, there is reason to hope. Read more

Le Feste

Cartellate, the iconic Pugliese Christmas sweet, is everywhere we look these days. And it's very, very hard to resist.

Cartellate, the iconic Pugliese Christmas sweet, is everywhere we look these days. And it’s very, very hard to resist.

Like just about everything else in Puglia, the holiday season arrives in exactly the same way it always has. From l’Immacolata (December 8th) to the vigilia (the night before Christmas) to Christmas Day itself, the growing excitement is palpable. Christmas markets in town squares are erected seemingly overnight, municipalities organize fanciful light displays and shops are open—gasp!—on Sundays to facilitate holiday gift buying. But unlike the U.S., the holiday spirit doesn’t flag on December 26th. In Italy, there is Santo Stefano (December 26th), San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve) and l’Epifania (the Epiphany, or more colloquially, la Befana) on January 6th still to celebrate. It’s an embarrassment of riches, particularly at the table. Read more

In the Kitchen with Rosy

Bosc pears are plentiful in fall and winter. They're also the best choice for desserts because they hold their shape in baking.

Bosc pears are plentiful in fall and winter. They’re also the best choice for desserts because they hold their shape in baking.

This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me, but some of the very best moments during our busy tour season this year were spent in the kitchen. Not unlike the way that dinner guests always end up converging right where the action is, our tour participants were drawn to the Italian kitchens we visited like moths to the flame. And in some cases, it really was a flame since we visited more than one glowing wood-burning oven heated to almost 700 degrees Fahrenheit. In the experience of diving into new ingredients with Italian home cooks, bakers, butchers and professional chefs, our guests deepened their understanding of this culture and its people. And they ate very, very well. Read more

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