Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Highway signs

Every time we have to drive out of Monterosso to the highway (autostrada), up and down the winding, narrow roads, my stomach lurches, but as soon as I see a green and white sign with "Firenze" or "Roma" written on it, I can't help but smile.
I know it's just a sign, there to direct traffic and make sure you take the right exit and the right road, and I try and explain this happiness at highway signs to my poor, bewildered boyfriend, but it's hard to put into words.  Italy has always been a dream to me.  The first time I stepped off the plane in Rome, when I was 15, I cried.  I was ecstatic to just be at the airport.
That's obviously changed, almost 14 years later, when I find myself actually living in the country I've dreamed of almost all my life.  Even before coming here, stories about Italy always floated into conversation from relatives, and it's foods were served on our tables more then mac and cheese and meatloaf.
When I get out of Monterosso, and see signs pointing in all directions across this crazy, beautiful, enchanting country, I smile at the memories of Rome, of Florence, and the towns I have yet to form memories of, some I can't even pronounce.  It just reminds me, again and again, that I'm actually here.  These dreams and memories are just a drive away.  The first time I saw a road sign for Via Aurelia, I chatted for several minutes, excitedly, that I could actually be on the same route that had been used for centuries and centuries before.  These things might be overlooked by some, but I never stop thinking how amazing this long history is, and how incredible it is to walk in the footsteps of centuries of civilization.  Sometimes it's easy to get swept up in the closeness of Monterosso, in the relative isolation of the Cinque Terre and in the newness of it all.  In the clean-up from the flood, the new home, the challenges and daily activities that overwhelm any life.  That is, until I see "Roma", with a simple arrow, in the distance, like simply following an arrow can bring you to a memory and a dream all in one.
Sometimes, all it takes is a sign pointing to where you've been, to remind you where you are- and where life can still send you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New streets and beach days

Sunday afternoon stroll and snack in the sun

The weather has been a little warm - by no means summer sun and sand, but that doesn't seem to be stopping weekenders from stripping down and laying out on the long, empty stretches on sand that trace Via Fegina and the shore.  In the sun, it is very warm, which means that all the construction is going along at a great place - the streets are clean, businesses have shiny new windows and doors, piles of dust neatly swept into corners.  Fresh sanded wood and varnish smells tickle your nose as hammering and backhoes beeping keep conversations in a state of quasi-yelling.  In front of the restaurant and in other parts of town, big holes have been opened up in the group, and orange safety netting seems to be draped across everything.  A tourist yesterday mused sadly, looking at the hole on Via Fegina by the parking lot, that the flood damage is still so severe.  It took a bit to explain that this wasn't exactly caused by the flood.  This is one of the end stages in rebuilding.  Going into the street to repair wiring and piping, internet cables and so forth means that yes, the look is a little dramatic if you don't know what is going on, but this is incredibly heartening progress to see.  With the warmer, sunny weekends comes day-trippers - mostly Italian, some Americans and Japanese - strolling along the ocean and through the old town, taking photos and chatting quietly about what happened a few months ago, some nodding encouragingly as the peer down Via Roma, which was, in October, a torrent of water that left mountains of mud in it's wake.  It's clean now, and the street is being rebuild with removable panels that allow access to the canal underneath, so it can be periodically checked.  When you see Monterosso every day, the progress seems so little, but when you haven't seen Via Roma and the Old Town for a few weeks, like me, the rebuilding is amazing.  So much has been done.  I walked back home with a relieved smile.
The flood still looms over us, in everything that we do, but it's nice to see how great things are coming along, and to hear laughter in the streets and see people laying on the beach again, crystal blue water lapping at the shore.  Even if it's ice cold.  It's still February, after all.

February sunbathing
Via Roma, starting the new street

New street
Underneath Via Roma - cleaned out, water flowing

Una bella passeggiata

New doors, new windows, clean streets
The sign in the door on the right warns people of wet varnish,
though you could smell it before even seeing the sign

Sunday, February 26, 2012


On the "Discover Barilla" website, several destinations in Italy are highlighted - Naples, Amalfi, Tuscany, and several other big time tourist destinations.  Cinque Terre is right up there, and the site contains recipes and pictures of these five tiny towns that are packed with charm.  There is a quiz to decide which Italian town you "are" (I'm Amalfi, disappointingly), which is neat, but the best part can be found by clicking the "Destinations" link in the lower left corner, then "Cinque Terre", then either the logo of Ristorante Miky, or by clicking on "Restaurant".  Manuel's parents, and their restaurant, is highlighted on the page, pictures and all.
Pretty cool.
The link can be found here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open for business

Rebuild Monterosso has posted opening dates now for all restaurants, bars, gelaterias, and so forth on the website, along with more information on the trails.  The link can be reached here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Comfort Food

Comfort food is something I spent a great deal of time studying and discussing when finishing my Master's in Food Studies at NYU.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes comfort food as "food prepared in a traditional style having nostalgic or sentimental appeal", which sums it up quite nicely, but I prefer this definition I found on the PBS website. "When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, a favorite blanket", and notes that comfort food can range from udon noodles to mac and cheese.  Comfort food is different for everyone, depending on where and when you were raised, and who raised you.  It's a definition that can be difficult to define - something that changes in the eye of the beholder.  I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the dished my grandma made that really make me feel like I'm home.

Chicken soup, something so simple, with little pastina or acini di pepe pasta pieces so my little mouth could fit them in.  Fried meatballs, garlicy and soft on the inside, simmered in sauce for hours - never served on the pasta, but as a second course.  Fried eggplant, little circles or crispy, crunchy brown exterior with melting, soft eggplant inside.  The "twisty Christmas cookies", strips of dough cut long, twisted into knots and deep fried, coated with honey, sticky and sweet.  Even something so simple as tomato salad, which I thought was a great secret recipe growing up - sliced tomatoes, oregano, basil, onion and a heavy splash of olive oil, making the juices of the salad the perfect bread-sopping sauce.
Comfort food is different for everyone, and I know that my comfort foods are perhaps very different from what they would be if I was raised in my little slice of Italy, in Liguria.  Mine bely, perhaps, a New Jersey Italian-American upbringing, Southern Italian at that, and I'm fortunate that all of these things that I crave when I'm feeling a little sad can be easily found in my region of Italy.

Italian food is fiercely regional, and what you can find in the North isn't always what you can find in the South.  Even with similar ingredients, recipes just don't exist.  With leftover risotto one day, Manuel told me I could make a risotto cake, and I obliged, using leftover risotto the only way I knew - by rolling it into balls, snuggling a piece of cheese or salumi into the center, lightly breading it, and deep frying it.  We both laughed, noting the idea of a risotto "cake", to an Italian-American girl with family from Calabria, means arancini (the fried risotto balls) but to a Ligurian, it means a cake similar to the vegetable pies of the region.

You can't pick a comfort food.  You can't just look at a bowl of Vietnamese pho and say, "Yes, it's you", though I wish I could.  In Liguria, I don't necessarily have a comfort food - I don't have a large Ligurian family pushing scampi down my throat, or an old nonna at the stove, simmering minestrone.  I certainly have both of these in my proximity, but it's obviously not the same.  For that, my "Ligurian comfort food" is something I figured out based on what I want when I'm away for a while.  Something I can remember the first time I ate, the first meal Manuel cooked for me, and one of my favorite things to eat, almost nightly, at the Cantina.


I've seen this dish outside Liguria, a pasta sauce coating long, thin strands of linguine or spaghetti, but it's green colored, as it can be made without tomatoes.  This dish is made with fresh anchovies, garlic, red pepper flakes, capers and pine nuts, sauteed in oil.  Fresh tomatoes are squeezed in, allowed to simmer, and then the dish is finished with fresh parsley and pasta twirled in.  I can eat plates and plates of it.

My Ligurian comfort food is filled with my favorite things, and makes me feel at home.  The location of the region means that ingredients normally not used in Northern Italian cooking, like garlic, capers, peperoncini, are found here due to the Italian coastal cuisine.  The food here reminds me very much of what my Southern Italian grandparents would cook, and even some of what I've eaten in Calabria, but a little lighter on the deep fried items, and less spicy.  Dark leafy greens, sauteed in healthy splashes of olive oil, tomatoes simmering on the stove - it sometimes feels familiar.  Acciugata is incredibly simple - it takes a matter of minutes to make, and can be made in one pan.  It's a dish that is all Liguria, but has influences that feel like home to me.

Comfort food might change depending on who you are, but acciugata reminds me that it can change depending on where you are as well.  You can't pick your comfort foods, but when you change where you feel comfortable, and where you can be comforted by food, foods that warm you, make you smile and remind you of something safe and happy can always find you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Article on "Flood Food"

I wrote an article which was published, along with a photo of mine, on The Inquisitive Eater, a publication by the New School in NYC.

The link to the journal and article is here.

Nothing to do with Liguria...

Or does it have everything to do with how I got here?

It's not a secret I've had a bit of a doozy of a year, but I try and remember how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do, and the opportunities and blessings that I've had.  Even the bad times helped me become the person I am today.

One of the most influential people in my life was my grandmother, my mom's mom, Angelina Corrado Frijia - also known as Angie, Ang, Gram, Grammy, and so many other names.  She passed away last night surrounded by all of us peacefully in her sleep, a few weeks after her 81st birthday.

When people say that someone was wonderful, we smile, and imagine - but my gram was, literally and without exaggeration, the brightest light shining.  She was the most social, funny, charming woman- always laughing, dancing, singing, making friends, starting a party, and always remaining at the center of it.  She was a woman you just wanted to be around, because fun was never far away.

Not to say that she was flighty or flaky at all.  She raised her 4 children and my sister and I strictly, but with more love then I can express.  Gram made me meatballs, told me stories, showed me her centuries old picture collection, telling the story of my family. Gram helped me realize that where my family is from is as important as where we are today.  I am the woman I am today because of her, and taught me that I can do anything.

Most of all, she always encouraged me to keep writing.

My Great-Grandmother, my Gram's mom, Maria, in Curinga, Calabria, 1918

Gram in the center with her brother and sister


My Gram's Uncle's postcard to her family from the Vatican, late 1930's

Angelina Frijia

Gram and Grandpa

In the footsteps of our family, outside the Vatican, 2006

It's fitting her name means "little angel", because I have the best one.  I was never scared to follow my heart and I knew she would be there for me wherever I was in the world - she's the one who told me, when I wanted to move to Italy, with a smile, a laugh, and all the encouragement in the world to follow my heart and go.  She will always be part of who I am, and I know she's with me still.  My tiny dynamo of a Gram, from Calabria via the Bronx, then Staten Island and New Jersey will be missed more then I can express.
Rest in peace, Grammy.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Monterosso accommodations opening dates

Rebuild Monterosso posted the accommodation opening dates for the upcoming season, post-flood.  Restaurants, bars and so forth will be posted in a few days.  To directly access the link on their webpage, click here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Buon San Valentino

Happy Valentine's Day! It's not celebrated anywhere near as much as it is in the United States, but a strawberry crostata seemed like a nice way to celebrate.  I made two - one a little fussier, with strawberry jam from Manuel's Uncle in Tuscany, the other a little more rustic with a blend of more homemade strawberry and peach jam.
Either way, nothing says I love you like a homemade dessert.  Buon San Valentino!

Monday, February 13, 2012

More progress

Rebuild Monterosso posted a Facebook album today with more and more pictures of things opening up in Monterosso these past few weeks - Ely and several more shops.  The album (and others of the progress in town) can be viewed through this link or their Facebook page.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Vernazza openings

Save Vernazza has put together a list of the expected re-openings of restaurants and hotels damaged in the flood.  We're working on one for Monterosso, but here's what is happening in Vernazza this spring - some places as early as the beginning of March, some even open now.

The link from can be directly accessed here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cool things about living next to Tuscany

A T-Bone by any other name, the fiorentina is a huge cut of meat that is obviously needed to be shared.  It consists of both the tenderloin/filet and the strip steak, along with a hearty "T" shaped bone (get it?).  It's one of the best things about going to visit Tuscany, as 2 of these, 8 homemade sausages, pork ribs, 2 kg of prosciutto and some pork cutlets all together cost under 50 euro.  Cooked in a grill pan with the fat from the steak coating the pan, it's served rare, lightly coated with sea salt - and that's it.  Olive oil and pepper are optional, but it really says something about the quality of the meat when all you need is just some salt - a bottle of red wine and some bread and you've got yourself dinner.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let's Talk Tian

True story: I eat so many anchovies, that one of the sous
chefs at the Cantina has literally started referring to me by my
new nickname, accigua (anchovy).  Literally.
He yells it when he sees me on the street.
I've made no secret of my deep love of anchovies.  In fact, I pride myself as something of their cultural ambassador.  All summer long, I find myself defending my favorite little fish to American tourists who are, rightfully so, traumatized by memories of overly salted, unrecognizable, mushy grey tins of the fish that we commonly see in the United States.  Anchovies are, in fact, not a salty fish, and though they are often prepared salted, as a means of preservation in leaner times, anchovies served with lemon or sauteed in a pan with white wine, garlic and herbs, really highlight the flavor of these white, soft fish.  They don't need to be salted all year round here (though they still can be, as people do enjoy them), but next to the sea, when they are caught fresh, the fish can really play a different role in many dishes.  In addition to the allure of eating local, anchovies are also really good for you.  They're very high in Omega 3 fatty acids, rockstars in delivering Vitamin A, and also good sources of Calcium, Selenium and Potassium.  Often confused with their bigger, herring-cousin the sardine, anchovies are without a doubt one of the shining stars of Ligurian cuisine, and one of my favorite culinary discoveries since first visiting the area.

The problem is I had no idea how to cook them.

Slicing and chopping away
Now, this could have been easily avoided, as Manuel's whole family is in the restaurant business and their restaurants serve anchovies prepared in a variety of preparations.  His grandmother is a phenomenal cook in that Italian grandmother "I know every recipe by heart and have been making them for 80 years" way, and I could have easily just hid out at their house anytime anchovies showed up for dinner.  However, when Manuel's father showed up at our house with a giant bowl of anchovies, I took one look at Manuel, and promptly informed him that he was in charge of all culinary responsibility for the next 24 hours.

Steaming on the stovetop
Excitedly, he got to work making tian, after a few phone calls to his grandmother and dad (Miky of Ristorante Miky).  Tian is a dialect word meaning tegame in standard Italian.  A tegame is a type of pan with sides - not as wide as a frying pan, but bigger then a saucepan, and with the same high walls.  This dish is officially called tian de anciue, or tian de vernazza (both in dialect), or tegame di acciughe di Vernazza, all of which point towards its origins in the Cinque Terre, specifically in our neighbor, Vernazza.  Manuel's grandmother and mother are from Vernazza, so I felt quite satisfied with the authenticity of our little tian-for-two, cooking happily on the stove.

Not surprisingly, considering its name, tian is cooked in a medium wide, walled pot on the stove, covered.  A dish with the same name is popular is southern France, specifically in Provence (which also isn't surprising considering their relative proximity in the scope of world geography), that is essentially a vegetable casserole, consisting of all sorts of provencal vegetables, like zucchini and tomatoes.  That's essentially what tian de anciue is - a one-pot wonder, a stove-top casserole of sorts, consisting of fresh anchovies, thinly sliced potatoes, tomatoes, onions, parsley, white wine, and lots of good olive oil.

We (read: Manuel) got to work cleaning the anchovies, which is the hardest and most tedious part.  Once their heads were removed (not as creepy as it sounds), our little fishy friends became one layer of our tian, alternating with the thinly sliced potatoes, chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced onions and diced parsley.  Then you keep layering - anchovies, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, parsley, until your pot is full.  Add a hefty drizzle of oil, a cup of white wine, salt and pepper, and put the lid on it and cook over medium heat until the fish is cooked and the vegetables (specifically the potatoes) are tender.

The delicious finished product
The dish is warm, and filling - but light.  It's a great lunch, and an easy and healthy one at that.  I love the practicality and simple flavors of Ligurian food, and appreciate it even more when these qualities can translate to modern times, and this dish encompasses all of that.  Tian is as delicious as I'm sure it was centuries ago, served in the Cinque Terre, but takes on another appeal when it's cooked in one pot (and you don't have a dishwasher) and you can cook it in less then an hour (which is what you have for your "flood cleanup" lunch break).

And it's a great way to use those anchovies that might just show up at your doorstep in your boyfriend's father's hand.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

slowly returning to normal...

The butcher is open again!

Residents of Monterosso have been in a bit of a bind after the flood, as I've mentioned, in terms of groceries.  We have a few stores open selling fruits, vegetables, bread (until it runs out in the afternoon) and other household supplies, but meat and other protein has been hard to come by.  Frozen is available, but it's no substitute for our butcher.  Slowly but surely, life is returning to normal here.

Also reopened are Ristorante Belvedere and Pizzaria La Smorfia... L'Osteria, Bar Centrale, A Ca Du Scienza, Cantina del Pescatore, Bar Gio and Enoteca Eliseo have been open for a few weeks.  It's funny, a few weeks ago, a suggestion to go to dinner was usually followed by the response, "sure, where?" out of habit, forgetting that we only had one restaurant and one bar for so long.  Now, with places slowly opening back up - partially due to the winter "off-season", partially due to the flood - it's nice having options again.

And being able to get off my forced vegetarian diet.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


On a recent night out in La Spezia, the nearest real city to Monterosso, a friend of mine excitedly pointed out the grattacielo of La Spezia.  She was laughing hysterically as we rounded the corner to see it, and after seeing it myself, I figured out why.

Only here can this be considered a grattacielo - literally, like in english, a skyscraper.  Grattare is to scrape, cielo is sky.

Buildings in Monterosso are no more then 4 stories, and those are mostly built into hills, so it keeps them from looking tall, or sticking out awkwardly in the sky.  This building is completely out of place, especially in the low Ligurian towns, and even in a city like La Spezia.  Being the only building reaching towards the stars (even if it's not actually reaching very far) has earned it it's tounge-in-cheek name.

 I think it's adorable.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Snow and Sea

It snowed more then in 1985 (the last real snowfall) and more then anyone can ever remember.  The whole town is blanketed by a few inches of soft white snow, and the terraced vineyards built into the hills surrounding the Cinque Terre are incredibly dramatic laced with snow, like frosting on a cake.  The white snow brings out the deep greens of the mountains, and the vivid, shocking blues of the sea.

Even for a girl who's used to snow, it still takes my breath away.

Snowy Vernazza in the distance